Monday, July 18, 2016

A.R.C.H.: Advocate for Play

This is the first in a series of posts for parents about supporting children as they enter school.  You can see the series introduction here.

We often see the beginning of school as the end of play time.  However, research and kid-watching tell us that this type of thinking is backward.  If you have seen kids playing you know that they are experiencing what Csikszentmihalyi calls "Flow". Honestly, many adults spend much of their time trying to re-connect with that feeling of being completely in the moment and creative. Why do we want children to distance themselves from something the rest of us wish we could re-connect with?

Stuart Brown, with the National Institute for Play, has a LONG definition for play.
Play is an ancient, voluntary, inherently pleasurable, apparently purposeless activity or process that is undertaken for its own sake and that strengthens our muscles and our social skills, fertilizes brain activity, tempers and deepens our emotions, takes us out of time, and enables a state of balance and poise.
Over the next two weeks we will explore two types of play:

1.  Active, Outdoor Play - Movement, Athletics and the Classroom
2.  Creative and Imaginative Play

Today we are going to focus on the WHY of play.

In our schools time for children to learn the lessons of sharing, give and take, rule setting and just enjoying each other's company is being removed in search of "academic rigor".  Many schools no longer have recess.  Some schools have instituted a "no talking" policy during lunch.  Many kindergarten classrooms no longer boast the center approach that encouraged movement and imaginative play in the classroom.  You see, true play is "pleasurable, apparently purposeless activity or process" which means it is tough to measure it and tie it back to an academic standard.

This is most unfortunate as Eric Jensen explains in his book Arts with the Brain in Mind
Reading, counting, speaking, and problem solving are all maturation correlated.  And it's play that speeds the process.  It does it faster and more efficiently than other means because play usually has the recipe for brain growth built in: challenge, novelty, feedback, coherence, and time.  Students often do theater and play games precisely because they are just challenging enough, with a novel twist here and lots of feedback. (bold mine, italics in the original)
Two key points here.  First, all of these skills (-ing words) are "maturation correlated".  That basically means that you can't rush them - they will happen when kids are ready.  You can't force a 10 month old to walk when they aren't ready and you can't force a 5 year old brain to read if it isn't prepared.  I digress - we will discuss that more later!

Do you see what speeds the process of maturation - PLAY!  It is the perfect situation for learning. Kids love video games because it taps into the way they learn - through play.  I am NOT an advocate of using screens to teach kids - they need human interaction - but the games tap into this aspect of us all and our learning.  (Read Boys Adrift to see just how frighteningly "well" they have done this).  

I also need to warn you that we are not talking about "fun" games that adults have made up to teach a point.  Playing bingo or rolling dice have their place but it isn't true play.

Why does play matter? 

The best overview I have found about the long term consequences of life with limited play and our need for it is this TED talk by Stuart Brown (and his National Institute for Play).  It is a bit long (26 minutes) but worth your time.  The reason why Brown pursued the study of play is very timely considering current events, but he tells the story much better than I can so check out his talk or interviews. Play is more important than we realize.  This written interview (a little rambling) and here (more directed) includes some interesting thoughts about socialization, video games and the tie between play and risk taking.  He discusses using a "play history" to better understand ourselves and our children.

Even classical education, which some see as "drill and kill", traditionally emphasized the physical and playful aspects in early education.  My favorite explanation of classical education at the youngest ages is found in The Liberal Arts Tradition.  You might be surprised that it has much less to do with rote memory and was actually called gymnastics and musical education. Gymnastics had to do with training the body (physical play) and musical education had the broad idea of all things related to the nine muses of Greek mythology (including history, literature, song, even astronomy).  I loved this book so much I wrote about it twice. (here and here)  In fact, the Latin word for school - ludus - can also be translated as play, game, sport or training.  For them it was intertwined.

What type of play should be trying to provide for our children and how?  Stay tuned to learn more about making time for play.

See other links to advocating for play at the pinterest page. 

Food for thought: 

If you wrote your own "play history" what would it look like?

What about you child's "play history"?

Should play be a part of school?  What would that look like?

How is play a part of your home life?

One last thought from Stuart Brown:


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