Time after time I hear parents saying, I want my kids to go to daycare in a place where they learn and not just play all day. Our public schools are being forced to spend most of their time preparing for testing and putting pressure on kids to perform. Our society has gotten to the point that everything is about performance and not much attention is paid to creativity, happiness, life skills, or knowledge that is useful in making the world a better place. Our recesses are getting shorter, and our creative programs are getting cut. We are so focused on academics that we forgot to teach our kids how to say please and thank you, how to offer a friend a hand up when they fall, or how to think of new ideas in inventive ways.
If we continue on this path of pushing our kids to perform in these core areas, who is going to be the singers and songwriters of tomorrow? Who is going to discover the cure for cancer? Who is going to create the next great work of art? And are these kids going to be so stressed or depressed that they will be unable to join the work force and be productive members of our society? These are the questions I ask myself as I see our educational system steering further and further off course.
Research shows free play increases literacy skills, memory, oral language, social development, self-regulation, and the ability to recognize symbols. It is linked to an increase in all areas of academic learning. Play develops emotional well-being in people, and helps children master their environment and overcome fears and bad experiences. Through play, children learn about people, themselves, their environment and the world around them. Play is THE WAY children learn. Play and interaction with others increases cooperation, negotiation skills, ability to play by the rules and ability to take turns. Children explore spatial relationships, build motor skills, and gather information about their world through their senses during play. Children learn to solve problems, get along with others, build leadership skills, and enhance creativity through play. Play develops pre reading and writing skills and is THE best foundation for success in school. Through healthy, fun, joyous play, children begin to develop a love of learning and prepare for real life.
Jeanne Bassis, founder of PlayReflections® who offers “playshops” for adults, says “Play is not just about doing, it’s about being. Play is a state of grace, innocence, wonder and creativity… and happens when anyone is truly living in the present tense.” To check out what PlayReflections is all about, click here.
According the Alliance for Childhood, “Overscheduling, emphasis on academics in preschool, too much sedentary screen time, lack of safe place spaces, and violent TV/movie-based toys all threaten healthy playtime, putting play at risk. In the wave of expanding accountability in education, millions of preschoolers are taking standardized tests now; if children are taking more tests, then they are playing less.” To see more from the Alliance for Childhood, click here.
Play is at serious risk in our society today, even though research is proving the power of play over and over again. It’s more important now than ever to support play for children. To foster play experiences for children in our care, we can offer plenty of free time and materials with which young children can try new things. We need to allow kids to be outdoors, let them ask questions, talk, sing, listen, read, explore and get messy. We need to let them experiment. We need to model a playful attitude and not be afraid to play with the kids and in front of them. We need to value play and teach our parents the meaning and importance of play in their children’s lives. The play you support today prepares your children for the work, learning, and play they will have as adults.
The president of the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play and professor at Hofstra University, Dr. Rhonda Clements, says, “It is important to maintain a healthy sense of play throughout childhood and into adulthood. Our complex society requires clear thinkers, playful attitudes, humor and creativity for complex problem solving.” To check out more information on play from Dr. Clements, click here.
When children enter the public school setting, they are not expected to be able to read a novel or do long division, but teachers are hoping children can be considerate, pay attention and concentrate, which comes through interacting with other children during play time. If children enter school with these skills, they will be able to learn productively as will the other children in their classroom because disruptions and struggles will be at a minimum.
Play in today’s society is thwarted by TV, computers and video games as well as being overscheduled with activities day after day. There is decreasing opportunity for play with neighborhood children and even siblings due to the current culture of busyness and lack of time outdoors. Adult directed activities have value, but when children are so overscheduled with them that they don’t have a chance to play, it can stunt their opportunity to experience multi- age play settings, which are important to developing skills children desperately need.
Bill Gates left Harvard because he loved computers. Toys of today become technology of tomorrow. Imaginative play is the cornerstone for all learning, and we as care givers to children in today’s society need to stand firm in our support of play!
As adults we have a desperate need for play as well. Dr. Stuart Brown writes in Play, How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, says “Play is not a waste of time but a catalyst. The benefits of getting just a little true play can spread through our lives, actually making us more productive and happier in everything we do. Play can become a doorway to a new self, one much more in tune with the world. Play is all about trying on new behaviors and thoughts, it frees us from established patterns. Play isn’t the enemy of learning, it’s learning’s partner. Play is like fertilizer for brain growth.”
Dr. Brown also says, “The opposite of play is not work, the opposite of play is depression. Far from standing in opposition to each other, play and work are mutually supportive. We need newness of play, its sense of flow, and being in the moment. We need the sense of discovery and liveliness it provides. We also need the purpose of work, the economic stability it offers, the sense that we are doing service for others, that we are needed and integrated into our world. Without some sense of play, people usually can’t make themselves stick to any discipline long enough to master it. People reach for the highest levels of a discipline because they are driven by love, by fun, and by play. Tigers Woods hits thousands of golf shots because he loves it, and he loves it because he plays at it, not works at it. The joy has to find its way to and us, and us to it.”
“Play lowers the level of violence in a society and increases communication. Find the joy you have experienced some time in your life and you are halfway to learning how to create it again in your present life. It can also be a guide to free flowing empowerment by identifying natural talents that may be dormant or that may have been bypassed.” In my life, I remember I always loved writing and wanted to write, but outside influences told me writing was a waste of my time, I wasn’t good at it, and it was silly. So I gave it up. But all of my adult life, I longed for the feeling I get when I write, so one day a few months ago, I picked it back up again, and the joy that has rushed into my soul since I opened that part of me back up has been unimaginable. I had no idea stifling my love for writing was stifling me in such a way. But now I feel more complete and on my way to finding my true self once again. The feelings I felt as a child writing have resurfaced and come back into my heart and mind again. It is joy in its purest form.
Every day there are opportunities to find some sort of play, teasing a kitten with a feather, playing hide and seek with a child, stopping to enjoy some natural beauty in the world, like the smell of a rose, whatever it is that awakens that in you, do it! Don’t worry about looking silly or undignified, this is a big obstacle many of us have to play. Thinking it’s irresponsible to play is also a misguided thought. Frivolous play is critical, it’s not a waste of your time. Be emotionally free. I am very shy and reserved in a group of adults, but get me with my kids, alone, when no one else is around and we have a great time. I don’t worry about my dance moves, because my kids love them and they bring them joy. I don’t worry about looking fat or nerdy, because they love me and don’t judge me. I don’t worry about my singing being off because they beg me to sing relentlessly which tells me they adore it. Be who you are. Even if you can’t do it everywhere all the time, find a place, and be YOU!
To get inspired to play again, author Tracy Hinton of Healthy, Playful Living says, “Play is fun! Now think about a fun time you had as an adult. For me, one that came immediately to my mind was rolling down a hill with the kids at a park here in town. It is just a tiny incline, but a few years ago when I took the kids there, I asked them if any of them had ever rolled down a hill. None of them had, so of course, we had to do it. I plopped myself down on the ground and showed them how it was done, lol. Now every time we go to that park, we have to roll down that hill. It is my hope that seeing me let loose and have fun rolling down hills will be a memory that sticks with these kids and they know that it is okay to play and be silly, even when you are a ‘grown-up’.” To check out more of Tracy’s ideas, click here.
Get physical to bring on play. Throw a ball, take a walk, do some pushups, whatever, just move. It’s the most basic form of play and leads us to more play. People can enhance their personal pleasure through play. Play can give inner confidence and strength but also heal communities.
Dr. Brown says “Fun is your North Star, but you don’t always have to head north. Nourish your mode of play and be with people who nourish it too. Play helps you regain the mind of the child, and better deal with the major problems and challenges we all face. If your life has become barren, play brings it to life again. Play transcends love and work, infuses them with liveliness, and stills time’s arrow. Play is the preset expression of love.” When enough people raise play to the status it deserves in our lives, we will find the world a better place!
If you haven’t read it already, I suggest you pick up a copy of Dr. Brown’s book. It will change your perspective, your mind, and your life! To find it on Amazon, click here. To read more of Dr. Brown’s work check out his organization, National Institute for Play by clicking here.
Comment below about what kind of play you’ve rediscovered that has changed your life or something you have learned about play and the kids in your life. I’d love to hear all about it.