The enchantment of childhood may be long gone for most of us but that doesn’t mean we can’t share in some of the magic.
My boys sit on the carpet playing with small colourful figures. They are deeply immersed in their inner worlds where pirates, monsters and magical lands rule. How wonderful it would be to be so absorbed as to totally forget all our fears, responsibilities and chores, but how do we return to the child within us?
Once upon a time magic was real to me, Father Christmas was an actual person and there really were mischievous fairies at the end of our garden. Somewhere along the road to adolescence I lost that innocence. Before I knew it I was all grown up and the fairies were gone, Father Christmas and the tooth fairy had been rudely ripped from my fantasy life and I was faced with the harsh realities of life, job, stresses and responsibility. My children come along and as a parent I was too busy with caring and chores to take much time to really be present with my children. Even if I did manage to find time to do a puzzle or play ‘pretend’ kitchen my mind was usually on something mundane like what to make for real dinner.
But play, it turns out, has numerous benefits, not just for the child’s developing mind but also for us adults too and if we consciously allow ourselves to fully immerse ourselves in play we will be richly rewarded.
Full immersion play can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals which in turn promotes feelings of well-being. Playing board games, doing puzzles, or other fun activities that challenge the brain can help improve memory and brain function as well as boosting creativity. Just as children learn a new task better when it’s fun, so do adults, especially when we’re in a relaxed and playful mood. Play can also help us to problem solve and stimulate our imagination, helping us adapt to stressful changes.
Play can improve our connection to others too. Enjoying a laugh with family and friends can promote empathy, compassion, trust, and intimacy. A fun and playful nature can help us loosen up in stressful situations, break the ice with strangers, make new friends, and form new business relationships. It can also keep us feeling young and energetic and even improve our resistance to disease. The social interaction of playing with family and friends can also help ward off stress and depression.
So how we do reconnect with our sense of fun and play more? The imagination is amazing. Everything ever created by man started with the imagination. It is the engine that takes us to fantasy worlds and allows us to relive the moments of magic and adventure of childhood.
Watch your children play imaginary games and you’ll see they’re not restrained with self consciousness, self doubt or a lack of ideas – limitless imagination flows out of them in the form of stories and scenes, spectacular catastrophes (my boys love explosions!) or dramatic love scenes (think ‘Frozen’)
I feel my most child-like when my boys and I walk in the woods. The chores I have to attend to temporarily cross my mind but I shake them away. They can wait. I tell the boys to imagine the woodland creatures that might be living in a hole in the tree; we create fantasy stories and act them out. They carve their own path through the wood to see where it leads. We’ll find a spot where the sun filters through the leaves and create fantastical worlds in the wood around us. This nurtures our imaginations and fuels their creativity. It gives their imagination the freedom to run riot, and allows me to break free of the shackles of responsibility from time to time, to regain a new sense of spontaneity. I try to see the world through my boy’s eyes occasionally and be the person I was before responsibility set in.
When we engage ourselves in our child’s imaginary world we are engaging with them on their level, we are giving them power and permission to be themselves and as such we really connect with them. They will open themselves up and we’ll learn more about them. If our children see that we can be fun and spontaneous, they’ll see that we are accepting the part of them that is fun and spontaneous, which in turn gives them confidence and inner strength.
Fiction is wonderful for fuelling the imagination. As an adolescent I was obsessed with the Famous Five books. I always wanted to be George and I loved the adventures the Five had. There was something comforting about these books especially after some hair-raising adventures were concluded with Ginger Beer! Re-reading some of the books recently sent me straight back to my childhood bed where I would be immersed in magical lands of pirates and lighthouses. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe too, has me imagining evil witches and friendly fawns, and their modern day equivalents.
Not only does re-reading childhood favourites bring back memories we’d long ago mislaid but it can also make us more creative. Painting, drawing, writing stories can unleash creativity in other part of our lives too. In can be difficult to tear ourselves away from the day-to-day but if we make play a part of every day life we can reconnect to our playful spirit and creative energy.
Just because we grow up, doesn’t mean we have to stop playing. Consider the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”