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        Melissa Lennox

       22 September 2009

The Pennsylvania State University

 RPTM 476: Leisure Education

      Assignment #1: Play
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A. George Bernard Shaw once wrote: “we don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old
because we stop playing.” On a similar note, Dr. Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan share
that studies have shown people who play are less likely to develop neurological disorders, such
as dementia, as well as other health problems (Brown, S. & Vaughan, C. 2009. p. 71). It is
evident that play is such a crucial element to our development and progression as humans. Not
only does it impact our lives as older adults, but it also has a huge affect on childhood. Some of
my fondest memories from childhood are when I was playing. I can distinctly remember playing
dress-up with my sister and cousins, building forts with my brother, and playing “manhunt” with
my neighbors. I don’t remember every detail about first grade, but I do remember learning to
improve my counting by using miniature bears.
        These memories show that learning is such an important part of play. Brown and
Vaughan state that “one major theory is that play is simply practice for skills needed in the future
(p. 31).” Each memory demonstrates the skills I acquired at a young age but still have and use
today. By playing dress-up, I used imaginative and social play to develop my own sense of self
while working on my socialization skills. I imagined myself as different people in different
places which has had an impact on my creativity in life. Building a fort with my brother and
acting as though we were warriors is a form of rough-and-tumble play. I learned the acceptable
amount of aggression and how much was too much. This helped develop my love for contact
sports, such as soccer. Through competing in “manhunt” with my neighbors, I learned
socialization and a sense of belonging. I learned how to play cooperatively which has stayed with
me in my efforts of team sports and group work. I also learned how to play different roles within
a group.
        I learned something about the world at large through small play activities as a child.
Although these are only a few examples, I know that play has had a huge impact on my personal
development. Play has always been a part of who I am and I hope that I never lose it. Brown
dedicates a whole section to “losing it.” He talks about how people will judge you for believing
in play but they are the one’s who believe nonsense. He mentions, “We can discover how to find
as much joy as we do when involved in any project, as much joy as we did when were a kid
making paper airplanes and flying them from the roof (p. 149).” This is why play is important in
both leisure time and work.
        We can enjoy play in our personal lifestyles. In fact, we must. It is also wise, however, to
incorporate a play attitude into one’s profession. Since I want to work with children after
graduation, I am aware of how imperative it is to use methods of play in recreational therapy.
Brown used the example of Ivan, the two year old boy in the hospital. He mentioned that his
want to play was his first sign of improvement. I would like to work in a children’s hospital for a
period of time in my life and I can see how beneficial it is for such children to play. Not only
does it help one’s understanding of hospital occurrences, but it also allows that child feel like a
kid again – not just a hospital patient.
        My number one population to work with is children, no matter their health or abilities.
Whatever setting I am working in, I will use play to help the children to grow, to learn, and to
understand. Brown and Vaughan make it clear how crucial it is to use play at such early ages in
life and to carry it out over a lifespan. They had a lot of good research examples of the benefits
(which I will discuss next). The authors solidified my beliefs in the value of play.

B. Throughout the book, Dr. Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan discuss several benefits
attributed to play. Play encourages development through socialization, imagination, and
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creativity. As people play, they are more likely to learn social roles and norms. The individual
will develop his/her social skills through interactions brought about during play. He/she will
grasp the contexts of appropriate means of socialization as well as understand the rules
associated with properly socializing. Brown and Vaughan state: “kids at play can learn the
difference between friendly teasing and mean-spirited taunting as they explore the boundaries
between those two, and learn how to make up when the boundary is crossed (p. 32).” The authors
are showing that as kids play, they are developing skills for interaction with one another which
will be useful in the future. Sure, it is easy for a child’s parents to preach to them about
interacting with other kids, but it is more meaningful for the children to discover this for
        By using imaginative and creative play, a person is able to mentally put his or herself into
a different situation. For example, a child could imagine not going to school for a day and
staying home by himself. He would think of all the “awesome” things he could be doing while
home alone. While imagining this event, the boy may realize that he would have no one to play
with and that he’d be missing out on events at school. A person, such as the boy, is able to
develop ideas about his/her possible interests from simply using his/her imagination. Brown and
Vaughan say that “for humans, creating such simulations of life may be play’s most valuable
benefit (p. 34).” The reason they say this is because people can invent themselves and come up
with possibilities of the unknown. The authors elaborate by saying “we can learn lessons and
skills without being directly at risk (p. 34).” They also say that “…imagining the inner life of
others and comparing it to one’s own – is one of the keys to developing empathy, understanding
and trust of others, as well as personal coping skills (p. 87).” Play is a great way to enhance
interpersonal skills and a sense of self.
        On page 49, Brown and Vaughan state: “the great benefits of play… are the ability to
become smarter, to learn more about the world than genes alone could ever teach, to adapt to a
changing world.” Individuals are able to learn and discover for themselves through playful
methods. By using play as a method of trial and error, a person is able to determine what works
in his/her best interest. This could be for career options, leisure activities, or life decisions.

C. Play is important for people of all demographics, abilities, ethnicities, and ages. It is, however,
an essential element to Therapeutic Recreation (TR) and those populations that TR serves. One
of the several populations that Brown and Vaughan discuss that would be served through TR is
children who are ill. While Brown was medical student, he did a rotation at a children’s hospital
where he interacted with children who were very ill. One person that stuck out to him is a two
year old boy named Ivan. Dr. Brown noticed that his first sign of improvement was the fact that
he was able to smile. He states “when anyone smiles at another person, they are reaching out,
engaging in a play invitation… (p. 25).” Play greatly impacts such a population because play is
what kids know and love. By using different means of play in a hospital, a child is able to better
understand what is going to take place. An example is medical or therapeutic play. Using a doll
that loses its hair or has an IV hooked up to it helps a child to comprehend what is going to occur
with his/her own body. Play functions as a means of comfort and understanding.
        Another population discussed that would benefit from play and Therapeutic Recreation is
abused youth. On page 26, Brown mentions that kids who are abused are more likely to engage
in antisocial behavior and violence. This is a large population served through TR that would
greatly benefit from play. It is important to use play to develop better social skills and to express
one’s emotions. Someone who is abused that has emotional, mental, and physical problems to
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work through can use play as a way to cope. Brown states that with abused kids “…violence was
diminished through play (p. 26).”
        A third population that might be served through TR is people with attention-
deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Research with rats (applied to children with ADHD)
shows a connection between ADHD and a lack of rough-and-tumble play (p. 100). Individuals
with ADHD have a tendency to engage in “inappropriate hyperplayfulness”. This can be reduced
through opportunities with rough-and-tumble play and social play. Directing one’s hyperactivity
to completing a task or engaging in an activity will help that individual gain control over his/her
actions. Playing will help reduce some of the “steam” that is built up inside the child with
        A final population is people who suffer from depression. Throughout the book, the
authors provide several examples of adults who feel a void or emptiness in his/her life therefore
creating signs of depression. On page 150, Dr. Brown discusses that he conducted a study which
shows how regular physical activity helped decrease the feelings of depression in seriously
depressed women (p. 150). He states that “since movement is the first thing that shows up in our
development, it can also be the first step we take back into play (p. 152).” By increasing our
activity and moving, we stimulate our brain and improve our mood. For this population, it is
necessary to sit down and think about play throughout one’s lifetime. Increasing play and leisure
helps to minimize feelings of depression.

D. Brown and Vaughan state, “…the opposite of play is not work-the opposite of play is
depression (p. 126).” Depression is commonly thought of as an opposite to wellness. Prevention
and therapeutic recreation aim at increasing personal well-being, health, and happiness while
reducing risk factors. By incorporating methods of play into prevention and TR interventions,
specialists are therefore decreasing depression. People who do not play demonstrate higher
occurrences of “at-risk” behavior because they have not developed leisure interests to engage in.
Not participating in recreational/leisure activities may hinder development. Play and prevention
encourage development whereas depression and risky behaviors do not. The authors state, “In
both [work and play] we are building our world, creating new relationships, neural connections,
objects (p. 127).” By not creating relationships and connections, we inhibit the expansion of an
individual’s development and personal well-being.

E. Play affects and shapes different parts of the brain. Various research has shown that there is a
link between brain size and playfulness (p. 33). Mammals that play a lot have larger brains than
mammals that play less (p. 33). Another researcher shows that play stimulates nerve growth in
the amygdala, thereby impacting emotions and decision processing (p. 33). Dr. Brown references
John Byers who found that “…during play, the brain is making sense of itself through simulation
and testing” (p. 34).
        Byers also found that play is related to the frontal cortex of the brain and the cerebellum,
both of which impacts cognition (p. 34). These two brain areas are affected by play and influence
attention, judgment, language, organizations, emotions, processing, planning and more. By
playing, each of these brain functions is increased and more precise in the development of the
individual. Stimulating different regions of the brain prolongs the advancement and functioning
of that particular area.
        Using play to influence the brain is a great resource for rehabilitation. Brown says, “…the
self that emerges through play is the core, authentic self (p. 107).” The whole point of
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rehabilitation is to restore or reestablish ability and health. In instances where a person loses
cognitive functioning, play is essential. Since play stimulates the cognitive area of the brain and
because play is an innate activity, leisure, recreation, and play will contribute to rehabilitation of
        On page 71, Brown and Vaughan argue that “…people who continue to play games, who
continue to explore and learn throughout life, are not only much less prone to dementia and other
neurological problems, but are also less likely to get heart disease and other afflictions…” Using
play activities can stimulate these areas of the brain and slow down progression of diseases like
dementia. This is another contribution to rehabilitation, but with a different population.

F. The material from Brown and Vaughan’s book will be very useful when incorporated into
leisure education. I can use the research presented throughout the book to help my clients better
understand the cognitive, physical, social, behavioral, and emotional benefits of play. The
research findings in the book are simply explained so that the details can easily be adapted to fit
different populations. Like leisure, play is typically a self-determined activity that provides
enjoyment. Through play, a person gets to know oneself, determine what he/she likes/dislikes, as
well as develop social skills. Each of these is a key component to leisure education.
        In order to fully grasp leisure and leisure education, a person must be aware that play and
leisure are states of mind, not just activities. Participating in play and leisure activities require
absorption and flow in order to gain the fullest experience. By teaching my clients how to
understand play and to properly engage in playful activities, I can help them better understand
his/her leisure interests.

G. After reading this book, I have reconsidered the importance and value of play in my own life.
Dr. Brown has given me several ways to examine my own life and many ways to apply his
findings to my life. When examining my life, I should do a play history to consider what
activities and instances in my life were the most enjoyable. I need to look at how I felt during
these times and recall the associated feelings and emotions.
         If I find myself struggling to be happy or feeling a void in my life, I need to consider how
much I let myself play. Sometimes I can get so caught up with the hustle and bustle of daily life
that I forget to set some time aside for myself. I should evaluate whether I incorporate play into
my work routine. Not only is play important in my work life but it is also important to my
personal and social life. It is a key element to successful relationships. Brown talks about how
imperative play is when it comes to love – love of your family and your mate.
         I have felt inspired to teach others to use play as a form of learning. I see great value in
teaching through play. It is such a primal activity that people of all cultures and ages can
understand. After reading this book, I have considered being a teacher that focuses on using play.
I have also thought about the benefits of play for children of all ages, especially those with
disabilities and illnesses. Play can let any individual feel a relation or a connection to another
person and that inspires me.
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                                        Works Cited

Brown, S. with Vaughan, C. (2009). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and
      invigorates the soul. NY: Avery and Long, T. (2009).

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