Uncovering the importance of play as a lost art in our modern society. I reflect upon the days of my own childhood before outdoor adventures were replaced by homework and the pleasure to maintain good grades. In more recent times, play seems to be something we fail to even discuss in our lives beyond primary school. Yet its importance still runs strong, enabling us to grow in confidence and our own individuality while encouraging creativity and exploration. This post also covers 7 ways we can incorporate more play into our lives! Read more to view the full article.
Recently, I was discussing my future plans with my grandmother over a simple cup of tea. I was explaining to her what I would be doing during my first year of university and how my schedule would change relative to the high school timetable I’ve been used to for so many years. We were discussing workloads, homework and how overwhelming exam season can become, especially if you don’t begin the process of reviewing and studying rather early in the year.
Gradually, we began reflecting upon the days of our childhood. Although generations apart, we found common ground on being able to come home from school, drop our belongings off and then hit the streets to play with the neighbouring kids. We both rode our bicycles and stayed out as long as we could until we were called in for dinner or it got too dark, simply to repeat it all again the next day. That was our homework, play.
These days, with school systems like NCEA, students spend more of their time chasing credits than chasing balls. Rather than problem-solving how to figure out a difficult life situation, they’re figuring out how to make NCEA work for them and find the easiest route to completing the year with at least an achieved. What I’ve found personally, is that it often doesn’t seem to matter how smart the student is, they still strive to get through the year the easiest way they can. Whether that’s only taking subjects they know they’re good at, or not answering all the questions in the paper just to perfect the ones which will give them excellence.
No longer are we going to school and learning for the fun of it, because we’re genuinely curious about the contents of our textbooks and no longer are we given the opportunity to explore through play and make our own discoveries.
In an effort to even the playing field and standardise the ‘school experience’ we’ve numbed children’s opportunity to follow their own path, expand their skills beyond an achievement standard and strive for what lies outside of the marking scheme.
Let us not forget, however, the true importance of play and why we enjoyed it so much in the first place. We loved the freedom it gave us, the sense of rebellion when we stepped off our own street to meet our new friend around the corner, and the problems we learned to solve on our own because we ran so far away from home that our parents couldn’t hear us yelling. We learned skills that we won’t ever forget, like how to ride a bike, surf that wave or pick yourself up if you’ve fallen over and hurt yourself. Funnily enough, those are the skills that will stick with us years into the future, rather than what was on your maths test on Tuesday in year 5.
We remember the lessons we learned through play because we were forced to figure out the answers on our own, or through teamwork with our friends and people we trusted. Not to mention, the friendships we created were effortless and didn’t revolve around petty arguments because you were too busy playing. We honed problem-solving skills and got ourselves out of the messes we made, simply because we lacked any other options. Play and creativity weren’t limited by the ringing of a school bell or the detail of an answer sheet, but rather the depths of our imagination and the distance we were brave enough to run from home. Our success too was judged off our courage and our ability to persevere not the percentage on our recent test.
You see, how schools judge and stream students completely alters how students view themselves. Not to mention how their parents, peers, and teachers perceive them. Play invites us to celebrate what we’re good at and learn from the people who are better. It challenges us to find our own path, no matter how many bushes we need to climb through or how illogical our route may seem.
Through my mum’s passion for early childhood and child development, I’ve seen how her work through Space enables babies and young children to learn and discover through play for at least the first few years of their lives. Mum comes home with magnificent stories about how kids persevered until they figured it out, in comparison to what occurred in my classroom when a student became instantly frustrated from not getting the textbook question right in one go.
In children, the importance of free play has been well-researched. Free play is defined by ‘Play England’ as…“Children choosing what they want to do, how they want to do it and when to stop and try something else. Free play has no external goals set by adults and has no adult-imposed curriculum. Although adults usually provide the space and resources for free play and might be involved, the child takes the lead and the adults respond to cues from the child”.
The key point is when it comes to free play choice is crucial. If we taught a newborn baby to walk without enabling it to discover how to crawl. The child would struggle to stand, struggle to learn how to sit themselves safely. It’s all a process of continuous learning and discovery. It teaches us more about ourselves and how we need to interact with our surroundings. I believe personally, that children who learn through play have a better understanding of how they learn and whether or not they are more visual, limbic, aural etc. as they are given the opportunity to thoroughly explore each technique. They are given the confidence to explore, be curious and ask questions. They become more self-motivated and independent.
Play, beyond the classroom, encourages individuality and harnesses our ability to discover new ways. It’s where great ideas come from and techniques are discovered. Just think about how some of our most amazing inventors discovered their most significant creations, through play, experimentation and discovering things that people hadn’t even considered before. Take engineer George de Mestral. He was simply at home with his dog when he noticed how easily cockleburs attached to his dog’s fur. He modeled this through creating Velcro, using tiny hooks similar to that in the bur that so easily catch onto clothing and fur.
The question is, however, in a world where play is so easily stripped away from us, how are we able to reignite a passion for it?
Well, here is my list of 7 ways to re-introduce play into your life?
1. Baking & Cooking: encourage yourself to be more experimental in the kitchen. I’ve found that some of the most delicious creations appear from experimenting with recipes and discovering old classics. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Have cooking nights with friends, or experiment with themed dinner parties where everyone brings a plate!
2. Discover New Spots: try out a new restaurant every month, or perhaps take a family road trip to an undiscovered location, do a little googling and don’t hold any high expectations, but rather follow your nose and see where you end up. Go camping! Find a new beach and a new fishing spot! Perhaps try a new mountain biking track. Go swimming! Take the kayaks out! Who knows what you will find!
3. Have a dress-up theme party! Remember how much you loved dressing up as a kid? Perhaps get together with a group of friends and have an event or fundraiser where everyone dresses up as their idol when they were a kid. Head off to the op shop and see how you can make up an outfit!
4. Pick up or Rediscover a Hobby: dig out your old mountain bike and hit the trails or perhaps try to find your old paint set. Join a local club in your community or try a sport at a social level. If you’re struggling for ideas, pick up some old puzzles from your local op shop and spend an afternoon seeing how much you can complete. The trick is maintaining focus and finding ways to problem solve when things get tough.
5. Hit the library and find some new books on a topic you’ve been curious about but haven’t taken the time to explore. Perhaps don’t even go in with an agenda, and just see what you end up picking up. Try to learn something new, or expand your knowledge in a new direction.
6. Have a board game night. If this means dragging out the Scrabble board - so be it. Or perhaps you’re in the mood to start a family war by bringing out Monopoly. Have a board games night with family, friends or just you and your partner.
7. Schedule free time: schedule time where you don’t have anything planned and try very hard to not fill this time. This time isn’t for completing the laundry or sending some work emails. Give yourself time to be alone and be a little bored. Remember what it was like to be bored as a kid? All of a sudden you had to be creative with what was around you. You spark conversations, experiment a little more and you have to find creative ways to entertain yourself. This time of ‘self-regulation’ is something we can really miss out of these days. If we have a moment alone or sitting in a waiting room we usually fill it by going on our phones. Put the devices down and look at what’s around you. Go from there.
I really hope you’re able to re-ignite your passion and curiosity this week. I encourage you to implement one of these ideas or concepts over the next week and try to see how creative you can be. Learning how to play again perhaps may be a long process, you had a lot of practice back when you were a child. So be gentle to yourself and forgive yourself for getting fed up or frustrated. It’s all about learning to be creative and open to possibilities again. It’s about learning to not settle for the first solution thrown at you, rather explore all your options and continue experimenting.
Have fun out there!
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