Watching our rescued Shepherd, Nessa, learn to play is a great reminder of the role of play and imagination in our lives and our children’s lives. Like many rescues Nessa was neglected by her family and came to us with no knowledge of play.
At first toys were ignored, and then, when she did try, the squeaks and noises frightened her. But she’s a naturally brave girl and you could see her determination to master them. She’d approach, squeak them, jump back, and pick them up again, until she grasped them, shook them, and beat them into submission! Now playtime has become a regular routine. It is part of her growing healthier.
When my granddaughters, Caroline and Catherine, were little, and I would come to visit, they would climb into my bed and we would tell each other stories. My favorite game of stories would be to start a tale and build up to AND THEN….and have them add a section. Little by little we built the story together, laughing along the way.
Their all time favorite story was one we told and retold. It was the story of the Friendly Giants, Caroline and Catherine, who helped their neighbors and were put under a spell by an evil witch who wanted them to serve only her, not the people who lived nearby. So she cast a spell and they fell asleep and became mountains. Now, of course, the girls were the mountains and I would push and shake them to make sure they were “asleep.” They would squeeze their eyes closed and try not to giggle. The story would end when one day some princes and princesses found the cave in each of the mountains (their ears) and decide to explore. The tickling would wake the sleeping giants and they all would live happily ever after.
Among others, the famous child psychologist, Bruno Bettleheim, tells us in The Uses of Enchantment that reading fairy tales and using their imagination in play helps children learn to cope with the problems in their lives. Reading and telling stories teaches the most important life lessons, just as Schiller suspected.
I would add a corollary. Playing and laughter are healing for all of us. Norman Cousins, the political journalist, famously recovered from what was thought to be a fatal illness by watching Marx Brothers‘ movies. He noted that 10 minutes of a good belly-laugh gave him two hours of pain free sleep. Cousins survived and wrote about his experience. Since then multiple studies have verified that laughter stimulates the immune system. (A Link to great brief article: http://www.healthandgoodness.com/article/laughter-and-illness.html )
So the key to living happy and healthy ever after? It lies in the world of what has always enchanted us: Playing with friends and family, cuddling a baby, hugging a child, kissing a boo-boo, petting a puppy, and laughing, laughing a lot…good, real, laugh till you cry belly laughs!
- The Health Benefits of Laughter (everydayhealth.com)