Monday, February 4, 2013

Played any games lately?

Here’s my theory: if grown-ups spent more time playing, we’d all be a lot healthier, happier, more productive, and less stressed. So when I say my new book, The Art of Stone Skipping and Other Fun Old-Time Games, isn’t just for children, I mean it!

When’s the last time you played Red Rover or Leap Frog—or bobbed for apples or went on a scavenger hunt? If you’re a teacher, a parent with young children, or a grandparent, you probably get some pretty good play opportunities. But for those who no longer—or haven’t ever—come in contact with children, the concept of “play” may have become completely foreign.

That’s truly sad, because play is a key factor for enjoying good health—both physical and mental—as well as a long life. Numerous studies have documented these benefits for adults who play games:
  • More creativity
  • More laughter (which improves heart rate and lung capacity)
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Decreased depression
  • Longer lifespan
Children get those same benefits, plus they learn vital skills such as:
  • Social skills and interaction
  • Ethics
  • Self-control
  • Following rules and instructions 
But scientific studies aside, the best reason for playing games is that it’s fun! In a world where drudgery and tragedy are too often our constant companions, the interjection of an occasional dose of fun is as essential as air.

"What do most Nobel Laureates, innovative entrepreneurs, artists and performers, well-adjusted children, happy couples and families, and the most successfully adapted mammals have in common? They play enthusiastically throughout their lives."
~ Stuart Brown, The National Institute for Play

Preserving the Past for the Future
Did I write The Art of Stone Skipping and Other Fun Old-Time Games for adults? Well, maybe. I mean, if we don’t pass on the ridiculous fun of balloon and egg tosses and the hilarity of crab walking and sack races to the next generation, who will? Mostly I wrote this book because I can’t stand to think that technology might wipe out activities that have survived since the beginning of time. I love Pac-Man as much as anyone but, frankly, it pales in comparison to the rollicking adventure of Capture the Flag, and when electricity and batteries are not to be had, a shadow puppet by candlelight will always be a bored child’s best friend.

My research also fueled a fascination with how connected we are, globally speaking, through the games with which we grew up. Keep-Away, which goes by at least four other names in various regions of the U.S., is played in Africa under the name “Mbube, Mbube” (the Zulu word for lion), and in almost every other country in the world. That beloved game has been around since the 17th century and I saw it being played at an apartment complex just last week. How many things can boast that kind of longevity?!

I’ve been a poetry missionary for many years because I believe so strongly in all it has to offer us; after researching this book, I’m adding playfulness to my list of Life Essentials. Whether it’s physical play that gets us up and moving, or mental play that keeps our synapses sharp, there’s plenty of proof that “those who play get more out of their day!"

But don’t take my word for it: listen to the presentation below by Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, who says, “play is as important to humans as vitamins or sleep.” Dr. Brown gave this presentation as a TEDTalk in March 2009.

Or just watch my very favorite YouTube video, which shows that a little bit of creativity and a playful attitude can turn even the bleakest situation into a good time!

Posted by J. J. Ferrer, author of The Art of Stone Skipping and Other Fun Old-Time Games.