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Playtime: Why It's Good for You

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

Play is for children, right? What if I told you that you needed a bit of playtime? Chances are you may find that patronizing. We instantly associate the words play or playtime with children and the developing mind. We think of toys and games and noises. Yes, that is how we are used to associating the idea. But let us first consider why. First of all, why is it that children, specifically, are in need of playtime? Because it is essential to their learning and development, and without the opportunity for creative play, this development becomes arrested. The neuroplastic brain sees stimulating, non-threatening objects, sounds, or colors and uses the information to practice problem solving. For example, visualize a toy that is suitable for toddlers. It could very likely be a container covered in holes of different shapes. The objective for the toddler is to figure out which solid shapes match which holes in order for each solid shape to fit inside. Now, consider if this was a 'noisy' toy. When the correct shape fits into the correct hole, the toy literally rewards the child with a pleasing musical sound. Dopamine receptors are activated, and the child learns to continue exploring with each shape. Thus, essential growth takes place.

Now that we have a general understanding on why playtime is such an incredibly essential learning process for children, let us consider what that means for the already developed mind. With any adult animal, the most basic point of life is to survive and breed. Most mammals drop the need for play when they are old enough for the latter. But I think it's safe to say that humans have evolved well past this point. Rather than just seeking to survive, we seek to live. We seek connection, wellbeing, and philosophy. Without enough of that, our livelihood becomes stale, and we experience burnout. Nonetheless, it is interesting to see how although we are constantly seeking change and growth, there are still some caveman-like survival habits we can't seem to kick. Therefore, it seems life for today's evolved human is a balancing act between advanced creative thinking and prehistoric survival skills. Some of us are incredibly advanced in our creative innovations, whilst at the same time, our cortisol levels are stuck telling us that we are still being chased by saber tooth tigers.

So bear with me, I've just attempted to put a lot of socio-developmental theory into a nutshell. But with those theories in mind, let us come back to why I, as an arts therapist, find that playtime should still be integral, no matter your age. Psychologically, play is the highest form of exploration and experimentation. If children don't engage in it, as I've mentioned, they become developmentally delayed. And if adults don't engage in it, although it's no longer a matter of survival, they can still lose their sense of wellbeing. Wellbeing is an essential part of mental health, and by now, we all are all aware that mental illness also becomes a matter of survival. Therefore, as evolved human beings, our survival could still be indirectly impacted by creative play and exploration.

We know that the fully developed mind will show neither interest nor benefit from exploring with the same level of play as that at the start of its development. If you come in to your first Music for Management session with me, I'm not going to hand you a Playschool toy and tell you to match the shapes and apply that to your activities of daily living. But I probably will hand you a choice of noise-making instruments, to which I will occasionally refer to as toys with a sense of both truth and irony. Yes, we will have some playtime in the music therapy space with 'toys' that could potentially appeal to all ages. You might pick up something that jingles or shakes or something with pitch. The pivotal point in that time is what you will decide to do with it next. Opening your mind up to play as a working-age adult can potentially open new neural pathways that connect with problem solving and creativity. You may learn something about yourself within the sounds you make. And if you quickly lose interest, then you're probably just stuck in 'survival' mode. And that's okay. Most adults these days are. But the point to our lives now is we've evolved past that. Simple playtime with rewarding sounds can help you reclaim your unique, whole, intelligent, creative sense of self. And that is why I want to bring it to you.

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