How Do College Students Play?

“How do you rec?” is a question students at Clemson University are frequently asked by campus recreation. Everyone recognizes that recreation looks different depending on who you are – some people love team sports while others pursue solitary activities. As a campus recreation employee, I am asked about this a lot, but in my opinion, there is a better question we can be asking college students, and that is “how do you play?”

College is a time full of transition for many. Not quite adults, but no longer children. Incredibly busy with coursework, but stuffing spare moments full with social time. What about the breaks in between? So many students get burnt out from trying to do too much too fast. What if students began to intentionally devote their down time to play?

I’m lucky – my major is parks, recreation, and tourism management. We have play incorporated into a lot of our classes. Last week, we had a project due in one of our courses called a heritage skill. You had to teach yourself how to do something from before the industrial revolution. Our professor was adamant that we were not creating an arts and crafts project. While we were skeptical about this at first, we soon realized he was right. What we were doing was hands on learning: playing with new materials, discovering skills and strengths we never knew we possessed. I built a backpack frame for this assignment, and while it was incredibly time consuming, it was not draining like the homework I have online in other classes. This was fun! I had the world as my oyster to collect resources and create something to be proud of.


Even those in more hard-science majors can find time to work play into their schedule. One of my friends is a computer engineering major with a 4.0 GPA, which is impressive for any major, but especially so for one as challenging as hers. She schedules time every Friday to go slacklining with her friends. They string a tether between trees on campus and tightrope walk with the focus as if they were balancing across the Grand Canyon. This combination of imagination and physical activity helps her stay grounded during her long weekdays of classes.

Most of my play occurs outside. I have four day weekends and try to use as many of them as I can to go on trips in the area. Whether it is a day long hiking trip or a full weekend of climbing and backpacking, I feel completely refreshed after playing in the wilderness. Going somewhere new sparks the creativity in me as I wonder what is around the bend in the trail. When I stand on top of overlooks, I think about all the people who have been there before me, and try to imagine what it was like to be the first person to see everything.


Often I lament that there are not adult-sized playgrounds, but really, nature provides the perfect playground for everyone. I climb trees, I scramble down cliffs, I swim in freezing mountain water. The opportunities are endless, and there is always something to challenge you and push you outside of your comfort zone. And nothing can quite compare to coming home, jumping in the shower, and snuggling into bed knowing that you’ve had a day well spent giving your body and mind just what they needed: a little bit of play.


We all have something to learn from each other, and the topic of play is no exception. So next time you have the chance to chat with a college student, ask them how they play. It could spark a conversation that benefits you both!