Anyone who knows me knows I'm a "world play expert." And though I talk about several other topics in The Happy Talent... everything always comes back to playfulness and leisure skill development.
Which is probably why two Quora questions caught my eye recently.
1. Why don't they build playgrounds for adults?
2. How can adults have fun at the playground?
(You know -- in addition to questions like, "Why don't adults play tag?" and "How can I become more playful as an adult?")
So I decided it was time for me to write a post about adult playgrounds.
Last week, in Kids' Games Are Getting More Dangerous - And It's Entirely Their Parents' Fault, I wrote:
Children are hardwired to explore. Risk-taking (or, at least, the perception thereof) is fun for them! It's in their nature. These risks tend to manifest themselves in one of six ways:
As adults, our sensation seeking behavior tends to manifest itself in one of four ways -- two that are ideal, and two that are less than ideal.
Less than ideal:
As I wrote in Boring People Lead Boring Lives, the latter two dimensions of sensation seeking behavior are "unideal" because they are correlated with boredom proneness, which is correlated with increased feelings of aggression (Rupp & Vodanovich, 1997; Dahen, 20004), anger, substance abuse (Rupp & Vodanovich, 1997), procrastination (Vodanovich & Rupp, 1999), shyness (Maroldo, 1986), coronary-prone and Type-A behavior (Kass & Vodanovich, 1990), depression, anxiety (Ahmed, 1990; Vodanovich, Verner & Gilbride, 1991) and low self-actualization (Vodanovich & Rupp, 1999).
Playing on the playground, for children, is a form of thrill and adventure seeking. So how can we, as adults, experience the joy of a playground?
It takes heights, speed, dangerous elements, exploring on our own, and rough-and-tumble play.
In fact, I always know I've met a great guy when we don't need to go anywhere to have fun. All we need is some green grass to tumble around in, and we can have the best time of our lives! "Traditional" dinner-and-a-movie dates seem boring and uninspired. All we need is ten or fifteen minutes together, and our hearts will be pounding a little harder for the rest of the day.
After all, as I wrote in Everything's Always Worth It: Reclaiming the Fifteen Minutes, recess used to be fifteen minutes long. And that was enough time to line up in a single-file line, walk outside, pick teams, and play a whole game of kickball before the whistle blew!
So why do so many adults struggle to experience the same joy as children on the playground?
First, because we get less silly and more self-conscious. "Will people think it's weird if I go run up that slide?"
Second, because our bodies develop, and playgrounds become less challenging. The heights are too small. The speed is too controlled. And, let's face it -- we've now been to more playgrounds than we can possibly remember.
There's a very simple solution to this problem. You have to redefine and recreate your own version of the adult "playground." In this post, I share some suggestions and ideas of how I've done it. And in the comments, I want to hear yours!
There are literally hundreds of studies that show the social, physical and emotional benefits of rough-and-tumble play in children. But in my experience, adults can have just as much fun -- if not more, since we do so much less of it -- when they engage in the same kind of play.
I wrestle with people I'm friends with. I wrestle with dudes who annoy me at parties. (It's pretty satisfying to pin some sexist dick in front of all his friends.) I wrestle with my dog. And I wrestle with my nieces and nephews. Obviously, I use different amounts of skill and aggression based on context, but it's still really fun.
Also -- have you wrestled anyone lately? It's exhausting! I was offered several DI full-ride athletic scholarships. I've competed in national championships and rowed all over the world. And I feel like play wrestling is some of the best exercise ever. You don't even realize how hard you worked till you're done.
So next time you want to feel joyful and exhilarated... try to pin one of your buddies. Sneak up on them on from behind. Or approach from the front, if that feels more sporting. Or maybe set up a mini tournament thingy. (Just, if you're indoors, make sure you have someone watching out for sharp table and furniture corners.)
2. Build a jungle gym -- out of each other!
As an adult, monkey bars and jungle gyms at children's playgrounds often aren't challenging enough for me. But. When you replace the metal equipment with another human, with whom you have to build trust and coordinate and experiment to get it right, things can get breathlessly invigorating pretty quickly.
(And, because you're only human, the odds of anyone getting hurt -- even if you fall -- are incredibly small.)
Building jungle gyms out of other people is thrilling because it incorporates elements of rough-and-tumble play with challenging feats of balance and strength. For example, piling as many people on top of one "base" as possible:
Building an incredibly tall human pyramid:
With the birthday boy on top, obvs.
Seeing if you can jump from the ground all the way up onto someone's shoulders...
With a running start, I can make it all the way over people as tall as 6'5... but sometimes I bang the back of their head with my crotch...
And other "amazing" feats of human jungle gymism.
And, honestly, you can have a lot of fun just using each others' bodies to jump a little higher, dip a little lower or spin a little faster without going full-on jungle gym. That's what I do every time I dance.
It's a really cool exercise in body awareness, nonverbal communication and momentum.
3. Climb higher.
Adults are bigger and stronger than children. So they need taller and more difficult climbing structures to get that same sense of risk and breathless.
Luckily, such structures are everywhere!
Even if you happen to live someplace without anything to climb... you can always join (or visit) a rock wall. I'm a member of a climbing gym, and every time I go, I think, Wow! This really is an adult playground! Plus, the floors are padded, so there's basically no way you can get hurt.
And! Climbing is another one of those "greatest workouts ever." When done properly, you're using your legs and core in addition to your arms and back. And, personally, I think that when you feel strong and you feel like a badass, you're much more likely to #ChooseBeautiful. But maybe that's just me.
If the rock wall is out of your price range, there are plenty of other things you can climb -- just for fun! Like trees!
I had a friend in college who used to blow off steam by biking around the campus arboretum and climb any tree he could. It left him feeling amazing -- and he got exercise. Sometimes, you find sap on your hands or hair or clothes later. And sure, it's sticky. But it smells so good!
4. Fall farther.
As an adult, you are tall enough to ride any roller coaster you want. You have more strength and body awareness and agility than you might have had when you were younger. You can climb higher than ever -- now fall farther than ever!
There's something innately satisfying about that free-falling sensation. And now that you're a grownup, you presumably have more resources. Use them to fall a lot farther than you can climb. (After all, money can buy happiness -- if you know how to spend it.) Try bungee jumping or skydiving. Try a mountain roller coaster, zorbing or luging. Try ziplining at a ropes course.
Just go jump off some sand dunes.
If you've got bad a bad knee or ankle, just roll, baby, roll.
And when you get to the bottom...
5. Race back up.
Racing up steep things is fun because:
1. It will literally take your breath away.
2. It's a great opportunity for rough-and-tumble play -- if you grab onto someone or knock them down, they're basically already crawling, anyway, so it won't hurt.
3. Humans love striving.
4. When you get to the top, you can jump/roll/fall back down again!
Pro tip: Trying to spice up a game of Spoons (you know - the card game where you have n players and n-1 spoons, and the person who doesn't get a spoon loses)? Put the spoons upstairs. Play the game downstairs. Then, when it's time to grab the spoons, it turns into a crazy, lawless melee.
6. Get some wheels.
You're never too old to learn a new sport. Pick up some roller blades or a longboard. Use them to go real fast.
I'm decently good at riding my Surf One Robert August Five these days -- I don't know any boys who can keep up with me. But when I first started (at age 26, btw), I was terrible. I wiped out several times -- especially in crosswalks, when I knew people were watching -- and my right foot got super sore because of how hard I would pound it on the ground. But I stuck with it. And now, every time I get on my skateboard, I feel as free as a kid at recess.
6. Repurpose your wheels.
Use the wheels you already use -- perhaps to commute or exercise -- differently. Perhaps by making a real-world Mario Kart battle course.
Or just... sit where you're supposed to stand. Stand where you're supposed to sit. Put your feet someplace they weren't necessarily supposed to go. Things with wheels are surprisingly versatile.
7. Play pickup sports.
People -- especially women -- tend to drop out of team sports by or after high school. Which I get. Adults are worse at making new friends than kids. (Here's why.) We feel "awkward" approaching a group of people we don't know. Our focus shifts from "having fun" to "getting in shape" or "getting ready for swimsuit season."
But, honestly, if you suck it up and just do it, you'll almost certainly have a great time. I play pickup basketball several times a week. Basically, if you want to get in on a game, just find a gym with a basketball court, call the front desk, and ask when people play pickup. (While you're at it, ask about adult basketball/volleyball/whatever leagues. Then put your own team together, or sign up as a free agent.)
Or! If you see someone walking around with a volleyball, frisbee or basketball (or whatever) -- ask them! "Hey, were you just playing volleyball? Where?" This is a great way to make new friends -- especially when you travel!
I relocated to the Virgin Islands a few years ago. While I was down there, I asked a woman with a volleyball where she plays, and I ended up getting involved as a practice player/assistant coach at a local high school, which was an awesome, authentic part of my experience there. While I was at the gym, I met a guy with a basketball. So I asked him when/where he plays, and that's how I found out about Sunday morning pickup. Learn more aboutmaking new friends while you travel.
Or try Meetup.com, Craigslist, or Google. People are handy on the iInternet these days. And lots of people are looking for free agents to join their sports team.
Long story short, if there is any team sport that you used to play... there is probably some sort of pickup game you can join.
This post is getting pretty long and media-heavy. But I think you get the idea. There's a chance I'll publish a Part II in the future. But in the meantime, please! I'd love to hear about your adult play behavior! How do you "build" your own adult playground? Share in the comments, or reach out on Facebook or Twitter.
Or, if you want to learn more about this, check out The Playful Adult: 500 Ways to Lighten Your Spirit and tickle Your Soul, by Sue Baldwin.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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