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  • Jody B. Miller

Play is important! | Brody Gray | TEDx Youth@Columbus

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

As a mom, I always played with my kids. I believe in it. I believe in fun.

From made up games, to singing, to card games, board games, hide n' go seek, clapping rhythm games, ghost walks with flashlights, ice cream outing in our pajamas,... and more.

We played.

Maybe I wanted them to have a little of my childhood of freedom and friendship. A time when we didn't come in until we heard the bell or gong or shrill of a mom's tone (dinner!).

In the world where my kids grew up, it was all about locking doors, driving them to school, signing them up for organized activities at 3, helicoptering over them just so they could achieve. And for what? A life of stress, stratospheric expectations and low self esteem because they never got to play on their own, to figure it out, to come up with solutions, dreams and plans... Parents forgot about play.

I give a talk at conferences, meetups and companies called TGIM. I wrote about it for Entrepreneur Magazine and I still believe in it.

It is all about the difference in generations and how we can change the damage we have done. It is all about play.

As a mom, I did lots of these scheduling things, but because one of my three is disABLED, I had to simplify. And playing was the best way for him to learn. And, because I loved to play, he helped me continue that tradition (and my other kids let it happen (even during the get out of my life mom years). So thanks to my Chris, play still reigns in my family.

We still go to Disneyland every year. We go on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and laugh. We scream with joy at Guardians of the Galaxy (my delayed son corrected me when I thought it was still Tower of Terror).

I believe in play. Maybe after listening to #BrodyGray, you will too.

- JBMiller

Play is important! | Brody Gray | TEDxYouth@Columbus

That is the sound that all of us hate: the back-to-class bell. After a good time at recess, it's time for all the kids to go back inside to learn again.


But what if we were already in one of the best places to learn? A place that's a safe environment, has clean air, good lighting, and lots of space.


A place that allows us to become creative critical thinkers, exactly the skills we need for the future. Sounds like the perfect classroom, doesn't it? Well, outdoor unstructured play can do just that. It can give us better academic performance, it can help us develop problem-solving skills, and, of course, it keeps us healthy. Let me share a personal story with you.


This ... is a stick. Or is it? When I was in first grade, my friends and I pretended that this was a key that can unlock another dimension, galaxy, or even a secret underground spy base. Recess wasn't just a break from class. It was a doorway to a whole other world, a world where we created our own language, planets, and aircraft to transport you through the inky darkness of space. "On our she matchi matchi for emac." That means "look out for that spaceship" in our secret language.


The key was inserted into a tree stump, which is the special lock made by aliens. Unfortunately, our play area got torn down. So I'm still looking for another good stump. But why am I even telling you this story? The average kid gets about 30 minutes of outdoor play every day.


Yet, that's only if recess is on time, and if it isn't canceled by bad weather.


That's about half as much as 20 years ago. But why does this even matter? According to nprEd, when it comes to brain development, time in the classroom is actually less important than time on the playground. A recent study by Charles Hillman has shown that "Kids who are physically fit tend to do better in school than their fellow classmates." Math, especially.


In fact, countries that have more recess actually perform better academically than where recess is less. Isn't that interesting? Outdoor play means that there are no rules, no coaches, no umpires, and no rule books to decide what we have to do and what game we have to play.


We create, we innovate, we cooperate, we decide what to do. We have fun doing it. We decide what this is: a car, a plane, a key, or just a stick. According to one researcher, outdoor unstructured play helps us develop problem-solving skills. We actually have fun learning. Amazing, isn't it? Let's talk a little more about the benefits of being outside.


Clearly, exercise is beneficial for our mental and physical development.


Making sure this happens outside has even more benefits.


In fact, according to the book "Last Child in the Woods," adults too seem to benefit from "recess" in natural settings.


Joggers who exercised in natural green settings felt more restored, less anxious, angry, and depressed than people who exercised inside. This seems to be true for children as well.


The need to be outside doesn't diminish after elementary school. One survey found only 10% of American teens spent time outside every day.


And yet, nature can improve creativity by 50%! So think about that the next time you get a massive pile of homework. Make sure you do at least a pound of it outside. Want better academic performance? Get outside. Climb a tree. We can weather the weather.

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