Mary Floyd

When was the last time you played? In today’s society, play is considered unproductive. Our lives are controlled by time, jobs, and the never ending to-do lists. Play is thought of as an activity only children partake in, when actually, everyone can benefit from a more playful lifestyle.

words + photographs MARY FLOYD

I have been teaching early childhood education for the past nine years. During those years, I have witnessed how incorporating play builds a child’s social/emotional skills. Students learn through play. Play should not be considered a separate activity that is a reward for when work is finished. Play is a risk-free environment where students are free to take chances and explore without fear of failure. Through play, new thoughts and ideas emerge. Play invigorates the imagination. If play is beneficial to our social/emotional wellbeing, then why do humans stop playing as we get older?

Tim Floyd, Mary’s husband, goes sledding with their 5-year-old daughter.

When we begin our day with play in kindergarten, it provides the students an opportunity to bond with me. Students invite me into their world of play, and we get to explore and create together. I find myself feeling happier and lighter when I join in with them in their play. There are mornings where the students and I are laughing and telling jokes with one another, coloring and learning how to write our names in bubble letters, and sometimes, our play is dressing up as superheroes and using our imaginations. By having these interactions with my students, I feel connected to them, and we share stronger relationships. We are creating a classroom environment where students are safe to take risks and try new ideas. This play also benefits me. I am setting aside the to-do lists, and I am enjoying being present in the moment. In our busy worlds, finding time to be present can feel like a challenge.

After seeing the benefits of a playful classroom environment, I wondered what would happen at home if we attempted to slow down and create a more playful environment. I have made a point each week to carve out some me time. Doing my nails is a fun way for me to play. It is a creative outlet that allows me to be artistic and do something that brings me joy. I also play with my family. We may watch a movie and eat snacks on a Saturday night or go outside and play a game my daughter made up that involves my husband chasing her and me laughing until my sides hurt. Less time on our phones and more time playing family games has created a closer family unit. We are more present in our time together, and we are creating memories and learning from one another.

Early education teacher Mary Floyd plays with her daughter in Nixa, Missouri.
TOP Mary and her 5-year-old daughter playing. BOTTOM Mary spending time with a friend, painting pottery.
Nixa School District early childhood educator Mary Floyd paints pottery with a friend.

Playing with friends comes naturally in most cases, whether you are a child or an adult. Our circle of friends are people we identify with and have connections to. You may go golfing with friends, go see a movie, or even grab a bite to eat. These activities are purely for the enjoyment of being with others. My best friend since high school and I realized we had not had time together without our children in a long while, so we decided to go paint pottery. It was so much fun to sit for a couple of hours, just talking and mindlessly painting. We didn’t realize how much we needed a mental break for ourselves, as well as time to connect with one another.

Hopefully this article will get you thinking about ways you can incorporate play into your life a little more. Finding the time to make this happen is easier said than done – I get it. There is a saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Well, actually you can. But how will that leave you feeling? Typically, drained and bitter.

By providing opportunities for play in your life, you will have a much healthier mental health, and your connections with others will grow. Remember, the way you play may look different than how others play. You may choose to go for a drive with the windows down, play a sport, blast music in your home while you clean, or even read a book. No matter how you play, the benefits will make a positive impact in your overall happiness and connections. MF

For more information, check out Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown.

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