Time to Play We're all different. We think differently, look differently, act differently, have different life experiences, live in different places, and even speak different languages. But the one language we all learn and share, every one of us, is "play". I know, you thought the universal language was "love", but, now you know. It's true, some have kept up their "language" skills better than others, but nevertheless, we've all been children at one time or another, and play is the universal experience of kids everywhere, and of every time. Kids in every era, in every decade, century and millennia, in every civilization and locale, in poverty or wealth, whether in peacetime or time of war, have been playing, pretending and enjoying the fruits of imagination, and at some point we all did. Child Development experts agree that "playing' is fundamental to a child's development, impacting their cognitive, social, language and motor skills, as well as their ability for self-expression and relating effectively to the world around them. Toys are a big part of that. Hence, it's crucial that parents and other caregivers, as much as possible, provide children with toys and other play materials that are educational, stimulating and creative, thereby fostering a child's growth in the areas pivotal to their future success and happiness. Contrary to popular thinking and trends however, all toys need not be complex or expensive to do so. I want to focus on a just a few here. First, I give to you one of my childhood favorites, the marble. Few toys can claim to have been around since pretty much the beginning of human history, or to have been found in nearly every hill, clime and valley across the globe, amongst most all peoples and cultures, like the marvelous marble. Children from many ages and cultures, with drastically varying means and circumstances, have been playing and growing up with marbles for millennia. Sure, the way they were made, the way they looked, the rules to the game, and even what they were called, varied with time and locale, but the essence remained the same, a simple toy, a small hardened ball, rolling around on the ground amongst other similar orbs, in a test of skill and playful competition, bringing kids simple fun and lasting memories. Marbles have lasted the test of time, and amazingly, there's not an electronic chip or HD screen in any of them. Growing up before the age of computers, I think I can hear the horrified gasps now, but yes, "before" computers, I can remember lots of games that were played, "way back when", that were fun, creative, social, helped develop physical and mental ability, and didn't cost much, if anything. Games and activities like flying kites, firing model rockets, doing puzzles, playing hide and seek, tag, hopscotch, jumping rope, climbing trees, playing catch, whiffle ball, touch football, tennis and riding bikes, just to name a few. Or toys like yo-yos, super balls, cap guns, building blocks, hula hoops, model building kits, water balloons, slinkies, various arts and crafts sets, and then the myriad of board games, like checkers, for instance. And like it or not, you have to admit the game "Twister" was not only creative, but worked your "motor skills" as well. The games of Life and Monopoly, and so many others too were part of my growing up. Do kids even play board games anymore? Sure, I see many, some of which I've mentioned and I remember growing up with, being sold in stores today, but I kind of get the feeling it's us "older kids" buying and playing them, in diminishing numbers, rather than the new generations. So many of the younger generation, and dare I say, many of us of the older generation also, can't be pulled away from our/their iPad, iPhone, iPod or the newest game system. I'm not knocking technology by any means. I love it and use it. We have phenomenal toys and gadgets today that I couldn't have even dreamed of as a boy. They can do incredible things. They are not only very useful and fun, but great for learning, education and development as well, for adults as well as kids. But, should we be locked into them so much, all of the time? Technology should be an expansion and enhancement of our life experience, not a narrowing and limiting of it. At a local store recently I saw large selections of intriguing and mentally stimulating board games, lots of creative art, design and craft kits, and even simple toys like marbles, jacks, drawing chalk and a variety of the simple, tried and true, ball, for kids young and old, all for much less than the "toys" of the more electronic variety. They are still available out there, but I wonder if the shift continues to increase towards technology alone, if many of these "dinosaurs" could disappear, become extinct. That would be a shame. Once we've learned the universal language of play as a child it never fully leaves us. Grown children, or adults, never fully outgrow their need to play. When we work too hard without time for leisure activities we end up getting "burned out". We need leisure, downtime, recreation, just as kids do, only they get to do more of it while we intersperse it with many other adult responsibilities, like work for one. But play is still essential to our continued development and health socially, emotionally, mentally, and creatively as an adult. It helps us deal with stress, rejuvenates us, helps us be happy. So, whether as a kid, or a grown-up seeking some relaxation, some fun, try going outside to play a bit more, and enjoy some physical activity. Or surround a table playing a fun and educational board game, or do some arts and crafts, with family and friends a little bit more, for the benefits of health, wellness, development and balance these simpler, less expensive games, activities and toys can provide?By the way, adults feel free to curtail the use of the term "play" when describing your activities. There's no need to bandy that word around like it is on school playgrounds. We know we're playing but we can use "grown- up" words if we want. Wouldn't it be cool to tap into our imaginations and ingenuity more, to work out our brains more, "old school"? Generations before us have lived, learned and "played" without technology and have been just fine. Maybe we should acknowledge and better appreciate the modern gadgets and fancy toys we have of today while trying to take them less for granted, maybe by using them a little less, and on the other hand, strive harder to see and better appreciate and utilize these simpler games, toys and activities and embrace the lessons, growth and enjoyment the simpler things, the simpler times, can teach us.