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5.1: Play

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    Children and even adults train their bodies and brains for real life situation through playing. Through the act of playing, children acquire and learn many new skills which contribute to their growth and development, such as cooperation, decision-making, as well as improved ability to both think and act more creatively. According to a report by Kenneth R. Ginsburg, “play is important to healthy brain development.” [9]. Patterns and connections made between nerve cells and neurons in the brain are stimulated and influenced by the activities children engage in, such as play. Children should be encouraged to play because it can be extremely constructive to the overall development of their brains, as well as effective in forming new connections in their brains. This important development influences, “fine and gross motor skills, language, socialization, personal awareness, emotional well-being, creativity, problem-solving and learning ability,” which are all key building blocks for children’s futures as they develop.[1] Therefore, it is encouraged for children to play, and continue to play throughout their lives.

    Playing also prompts children to use their brains in creative and imaginative ways. This not only develops and strengthens connections in their brains but also allows them to experience many different aspects of the world that they may not otherwise be able to experience. These “other-worldly” experiences so to speak, can be accomplished through children’s creative and imaginative processes where they often create fictitious or “make-believe” worlds in games. These games allow children to play and think creatively together. Psychologist Dr. Sandra Shiner says this about fantasy games: “we should encourage this in our children because creative thinkers must first fantasize about ideas before they can make these ideas reality."

    Games that children have created usually have sets of rules that the players are expected to follow. These types of rule-making collaborations through play not only teach children how to logically come up with ideas and rules, but also teaches them how to interact with each other, communicate, and understand how to socialize and work in a group. Studies have also shown that, "while in free play children tended to sort themselves into groupings by sex and color".[2] For many years, most anthropologists paid little attention to the significance of human play. It wasn't until recently that modern anthropologists realized the human play was an important factor and was necessary to be studied because of its massive impact on human behavior. The act of playing is now viewed by many in the field of anthropology as a universal practice and one that is significant to the understanding of human cultures.[3]

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Children Playing

    Play Among Children in the United States

    Play is demonstrated and encouraged in the United States preschool system. In the U.S., it is common for parents to send their children to preschools, where they interact with other kids of the same age, and learn important social skills. Parents are encouraged to send their children to preschool so that they can learn ways of play and interaction that will be important skills as they grow older and begin to integrate into society. Preschool and the idea of play in this context is beneficial to young children because it teaches the life skill of sharing, as well as many others like friendship, patience, and acceptance of others.[4] Not only does preschool teach necessary life skills to children, it can also be good for their health. For example, children with special needs can go to preschool for therapeutic benefits, like the development of fine-motor skills, relationship practice, creative thinking, and above all an opportunity for fun. Many schools devoted to special needs children utilize a technique called floor-time, which at its core, is play-time. This one-on-one play time with an adult is a great way for special needs children to explore specific areas of interest and develop a sense of self-worth they otherwise may not have been exposed to.[5]

    Gender Differences in Social Play in Early Childhood

    Gender differences within child's play are not consistent over time. Studies focusing on children in preschool found that girls typically develop social and structured forms of play at a younger age than boys, however, males displayed more solitary play. "During solitary play, children (ranging from ages three to 18 months) are very busy with play and they may not seem to notice other children sitting or playing nearby. They are exploring their world by watching, grabbing and rattling objects, and often spend much of their time playing on their own. Solitary play begins in infancy and is common in toddlers. This is because of toddlers’ limited social, cognitive, and physical skills. However, it is important for all age groups to have some time to play by themselves".[6] [10] Males typically catch up to females at the next developmental stage when associated and cooperative play is the primary focus. There are a number of reasons female children have an advantage when it comes to social play. Play involves communication, role taking, and cooperation. Socio-cognitive skills, such as language and theory-of-mind, are acquired at an earlier age for females. Within the first year, females show stronger social orientation responses and facial recognition, and more eye contact. These skills translate to social competence with peers. Another reason females may appear to have a higher quality of play may be related to gendered toys. A study showed that both male and female children had the greatest play complexity when they played with toys that were stereotypical female toys, compared to when they played with neutral or male stereotyped toys. [11]

    Activities in Adulthood

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Adults at a party in Barcelona

    Throughout childhood, a play is essential for children’s enculturation. As humans mature into adults, the idea of playing seems to fade. Leisure activities of intrinsic value are vital for both physical and mental health, attaining a sense of fulfillment in life, and for overall happiness. The importance of play and leisure are constantly overlooked when combating stress. Stress has been shown to have negative effects on areas ranging from national health to the economy. A Canadian study estimated that 12 billion dollars are lost every year due to stress and 43% of Americans report suffering from a job-related burnout. These problems are often attributed to the lack of vacation time in America, or in other words, a lack of leisure and play.

    When adults are given the time to engage in activities of play such as sports, hobbies, dancing, or various other recreational activities there are distinct benefits to their quality of life. In Jim Rice’s article, “Why Play”, [7] he writes about how adults often feel like victims of time, brought down with obligations to spend all of our time productively. What most adults don't realize is that play and leisure are productive in the sense that they are important for overall wellbeing and reduce stress which in the long run increases productivity in other areas. Some ways adults can play is by doing activities outside like hiking or boating, interacting with friends, or going out for drinks and dancing.

    This page titled 5.1: Play is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Wikibooks - Cultural Anthropology (Wikibooks) .

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