Few words have more descriptive meanings than the word “play.”
Play has more than a hundred different applications and ways of being expressed. In one of the its most sophisticated roles, play is instrumental in early childhood socialization which includes psychological, physical, and intellectual development.
You learned how to communicate and interact with others, made friends, improved balance, built strength, and developed self- awareness through play.
Play was fundamental to building a nurturing and healthy relationship with your parents. Some of your happiest memories of growing up probably involved play: playing with your parents, playing with your siblings, playing with your friends, playing with your toys, and playing with your animals.
Play creates feelings of belonging and acceptance. Play awakens your natural curiosity, creativity, and bodily rhythm, and it teaches you about rules, boundaries and freedom. Through play you learn about sacred and imaginary space, laughter, amusement, and relaxation.
Play teaches you to take risks, move, run, exercise, sing, and dance. It is one of the most significant ways children learn to feel safe and to build trust.
While in the lobby of the Humane Society, I watched one of our large Staffordshire Bull Terriers ecstatically roll on the ground as his potential adopters rubbed his tummy. There wasn’t a bodily sensation that he didn’t feel. He was in a state of bliss.
The woman who was thinking of adopting him commented that she wished more people were able to experience this kind of uncontrolled bodily joy while playing.
Through play, pets learn to feel safe with people, and through consistent experiences of rapturous play, both learn to trust one another.
The Verde Valley Humane Society’s army of volunteers walk our dogs each morning, train them to develop better social skills, and play with our dogs and cats for many enjoyable hours each day.
During a visit to her home, Elizabeth Kubler Ross, MD told me a beautiful story about play. During one of her residencies at a children’s hospital, the children in Ward A were healthier physically and psychologically compared to the children in the other three wards.
The medical staff studied the children and their care in every way possible, but they could not figure out what caused the improvement. Elizabeth decided to visit that particular ward on all shifts to see if there were any variables they had missed in their discussions.
On the midnight to 8 am shift, she observed a housekeeper gently picking up, lovingly holding, playfully rocking, and joyfully singing to each child in Ward A; one after the other, she played with them. The medical staff, interns, and social workers could not accomplish what the housekeeper accomplished through play and the power of touch.
The housekeeper was not an educated and trained professional like the medical staff, but she instinctively knew what the children needed to thrive. She knew how to create safety and build trust through the wonderful world of play.
American Psychologist Charles Schaefer wrote, “We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything, than when we are at play.”
John Tamiazzo is the executive director of the Verde Valley Humane Society.