The Importance of Play

Since beginning the process of investigating the advantages and disadvantages of choosing the home schooling option I have found myself reading more and more non-fiction work around different aspects of education.

I have just recently come across The Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning and have started to read my way through the articles it contains.  Today’s post is inspired by some interesting quotes taken from an article in the 2012 Vol. 6 Issue 12 journal.

The article is Letting the Child Work: Real Learning, Real Play in School, by Deb O’Rourke.

My interest was in the view of the importance of self-created and directed play to the growth of children and what it means to their future.

Play provides a psychological safety zone in which children can test their competence without fear of failure. (Hall, Dennis et al, 1968)

And how important is it that fear of failure is kept out of our children’s lives?  In my opinion, it makes the difference between a child becoming an adventurous and creative adult and one that relies on other people for guidance and ultimately gives up control of their lives.

Play functions as the major means by which children (a) develop intrinsic interests and competencies; (b) learn how to make decisions, solve problems, exert self-control, and follow rules; (c) learn to regulate their emotions; (d) make friends and learn to get along with others as equals; and (e) experience joy. Through all of these effects, play promotes mental health. (Gray, 2011, The decline of…, p. 443)

In other words, play is intrinsic to developing essential skills for a positive integration into the community and to becoming thoughtful adults who are able to best deal with life’s lumps and bumps.

Somehow, as a society, we have come to the conclusion that to protect children from danger and to educate them, we must deprive them of the very activity that makes them happiest and place them for ever more hours in settings where they are more or less continually directed and evaluated by adults, settings almost designed to produce anxiety and depression. (Gray, 2011, p. 458)

And this sounds very much like helicopter parenting.  I think we have a great deal to thank our overpowering media for with regards to the excessive doom and gloom that scares the living daylights out of us by exaggerating the inherent dangers of living in our society. (Note: I am not dismissing all dangers, simply that I believe the degree of reporting and depth of reporting gives us all to believe that behind every bush there lurks someone or something that is just waiting to prey on our children.)

Everywhere, to live in human society, people must behave in accordance with conscious, shared mental conceptions of what is appropriate; and that is what children practice constantly in their play. In play, from their own desires, children practice the art of being human. (Gray, 2008, p. 4).

Indeed, the freedom to play and integrate ideas through play, are amongst some of the stronger reasons for choosing to take the home school road.  I have no doubt that my children will learn to read and write, do mathematics, understand scientific principles and still get to have a childhood absolutely chock-a-block full of self-actualizing play time.  Hopefully they will be fearless and that they become the best people they can be, as well as being positive contributors to our society.  Lofty goals, but as Henry David Thoreau says,
“In the long run, men only hit what they aim at.”

Quote References:
Hall, Mr. Justice E. M., Dennis, L. A., et al (1968). Living and learning: the report of the provincial committee on aims and objectives of education in the schools of Ontario. Toronto: Ontario Department of Education.

Gray, Peter (Nov. 19, 2008). The value of play I: the definition of play provides clues as to its purposes. Psychology Today online.

Gray, Peter (2011). The decline of play and the rise of psychopathology in children and adolescents. American Journal of Play, Vol. 3 No. 4, Spring 2011, pp. 443-463.


3 thoughts on “The Importance of Play

  1. This is a really thoughtful post. Thanks. I’m not an educator nor have young children but have always felt that the education system needs to change. So much of our emerging selves is neglected in the classroom to the point of withering. I don’t see why play and creativity are still suppressed in schools. It’s a subtle form of cruelty to children which affects them all their lives. Thankfully at least now parents can read about alternatives on the internet and compare notes with other parents.

  2. I was thinking about this. Thing is, a lot of my early memories are of learning stuff with the school. Writing practice stands out. Gymnastics and rounders (if that counts). I remember declaring maths was my favourite subject, aged 9 (hahahahahahaha). Going to the wood and making plaster casts of animal footprints. And projects. Especially projects. There was one on ancient Egypt when I must have been under 7 and one on the Domesday book when I was ten or eleven. Oh, and lots of stuff about the history of our town. I liked history. And in the holidays once, I set up a school and tried to teach my brother how to read.

    But then for me, learning is like play. Which is, of course, the point.

    • Hi Sol,
      Thanks for stopping by.
      Isn’t it interesting what we remember from childhood. I do remember things to do with “learning” and being in class, but they don’t dominate in any way through my pre-tween years. I have to work quite hard to drag up those sorts of things. I do remember getting enough stars (for good behaviour – what a goody-two-shoes!) in our class to choose a book. I still have it – it’s about the evolution of early man. (I would have been maybe 9. Even then I loved history/archaeology.)

      I do wonder if that early learning experience was so relaxed and natural that it didn’t stand out as excessively negative or positive enough to leave the stronger memories. The learning just happened in the way it seems to do for little kids so long as they are given interesting things to see, do and play/work with.

      I think it’s quite prophetic this early childhood stuff – I wanted a book on prehistory (and I did an Anthro degree), you set up a school to teach reading… now what is it you do for a living again? 😉
      Maybe I need to watch what the kids are into for signs of future professions.

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