Why play is definitely not just for children

You’ll hopefully know by now that here at My First Five Years we are all about play. But you might be surprised to know that play is definitely not just for children. There are many scientific studies that have researched the importance and power of play for all ages. Dr Stuart Brown, a leading researcher on play, says that “we are built to play and built by play,”[1] and according to Scott G. Eberle[2] (editor of The American Journal of Play), “We don’t lose the need for novelty and pleasure as we grow up… play brings joy. And it’s vital for problem-solving, creativity and relationships.” 




But what if you can’t remember the last time you enjoyed playing as an adult? What if, when you do get a precious couple of hours to yourself, you don’t know where to start? We thought we’d share a couple of ideas of how to get back in touch with your inner child and make playing a regular part of your life.


Let your child lead the way 

If you are interested in more of the research behind play, then this post is worth a read - The power of learning through play. Children are the most wonderful teachers on how to play, because they do it so naturally.  

Everything brings potential for play, from digging in the garden through to getting dressed in the morning. Okay, so maybe getting dressed in the morning doesn’t seem that fun as an adult, OR maybe it does. Perhaps clothes and fashion are the adult version of a dress-up box?

What haven’t you done with your child recently or maybe ever? Can you have a go at that? 

There are quite literally thousands of ways that you can play with your child / children and this number grows and changes every single day that they grow. I enjoy baking and so does my eldest, and trying out new recipes together has become a constant source of joy for us both. What does your child like to play that might give you an opportunity to explore something new? There’s nothing to say that while your child has the paints out you can’t grab yourself some watercolours and have a dabble, even if, especially if, the last time you held a paintbrush was many years ago. 

You might also like this blog post - How to play with your child without having to dress up as a princess.

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Consider what you enjoyed playing as a child 

This might involve some thinking but there are clues to be found here. After all, children have no pretences or inhibitions, these come later. Perhaps you loved team sports in primary school but now don’t do any. This could be worth exploring a little more. Plenty of adults I know realise their love of Lego hasn’t evaporated into adulthood who says you have to wait for your child to want that new Harry Potter Lego set you’d love to build?

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You might need to dig a little deeper than the surface, for example, I absolutely loved Barbies, I could play them for hours and never get bored. Now, as an adult, I’m not massively drawn to small plastic dolls, but when I think about what exactly I loved about playing with Barbies, it was creating the stories. There would be a new adventure every day, normally a huge drama in which the characters would be pushed to their limits, and I would be completely immersed in these narratives. Needless to say, I now love writing stories and could do so for hours!  


Try something new 

It is so easy to slip into the habit of playing in the same ways and some of this is good, as we know what we like. But there are literally hundreds and thousands of ways to play that we’ve not discovered yet.  

A couple of years ago I suggested to my husband that we did a monthly date night BUT that each month we took it in turns to choose something different to do together. Yes, it took a bit of time to get creative, but it was so much fun. We tried rock-climbing, we went to see something totally different at the cinema, we did an online cooking workshop. This isn’t something you need to do with a romantic partner, find a friend who is up for an adventure, or just try something out yourself.  

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The podcast, Just One Thing[3], by Dr Michael Mosley, investigates the growing research into how learning something new impacts our bodies and brains, including reducing stress, creating new brain connections, making you happier and potentially even rewiring our brains.  

Whether it’s trying to learn a bit of French before a holiday or signing up to that pottery class, you will be benefiting your body as well as having some fun.    


Prioritise your own play 

Urgh, so this is the hard bit. Stopping to play, purely for the joy of playing, can feel frivolous and even selfish. It definitely takes a lot to get it to the top of that ever-growing jobs list. But play for adults has been found to reduce stress, boost creativity, improve relationships[4] and so much more. 

If regular play feels unobtainable at the moment, try starting small. You don’t have to book a full weekend yoga retreat, you can start by doing a five-minute yoga video on YouTube. You don’t need a huge vegetable garden, you could start with a few pots outside your front door. You don’t need a babysitter, you could get out a pack of cards and create a games night at home.     

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Go to bed ten minutes earlier to read your book, find that guitar you haven’t played since you were a teenager and leave it somewhere more visible so you can have the odd strum, buy yourself a colouring book and go for a walk on your lunchbreak. These might sound like tiny changes but adding in opportunities to play will make a difference.    

Allocating a set time once a day or week means it is more likely to happen. Booking it in with a friend can reduce the chance that you’ll find something more ‘important’ to do instead. Just recognising your need for play is a step forward, if you don’t play very much right now.  

Our children are constant reminders of how powerful play can be - The power of learning through play - not as a nice-to-do but as an essential part of life. The washing pile might be calling but so is your playful inner self. Why not try to plan some more play into your days? I don’t think you’ll regret it.  

You will find more articles about looking after your wellbeing as well as activity ideas for your child on our app.