Play Saves Lives

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I believe that play is so powerful that it can save lives. Yep, I said it. I understand the power of play for children, it is how they develop and learn after all. Children are empowered with choices, problem solving skills, spontaneity and FUN! When you are playing as a child you have the opportunity to make mistakes, try out different ideas and not worry about them not working. One of my favourite things about play is how you can have fun, look silly and make children laugh – and they make you laugh too! You have to have the skills of knowing when to observe, when to immediately intervene, and when to hold back, pause, then decide how you might support what happens next. It takes a highly skilled practitioner to be able to do all of this, as well as support their emotional and social development.

Children’s brains grow the most between the womb and age 3. By the time children are 3 their brains have already grown to 80% of their adult size. Just think about that for a moment. That’s IMMENSE. If you are surrounded by highly skilled, educated and talented people – including of course your own family and parents, a child’s first teacher – you are more likely to be able to have that good level of development. Have you ever seen a child engaged in play who was unhappy?! When you think about your own childhood, any happy times you may have experienced will most likely be a type of playful encounter.

The play experiences that children are missing out on are being replaced by the exact opposite. Psychologist Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College and author of Free to Learn, tells us that unstructured opportunities to play provide “critical life experiences without which young children cannot develop into confident and competent adults.” As children get older, they are subjected to restrictions in movement and speech, they have to follow developmentally inappropriate rules and expectations, every part of a child’s day becomes overly structured. You can see how this makes it difficult to find time for play. I don’t wish to be morbid, but there is research that shows suicide as the third leading cause of death for school-aged children over 10 years old. There is increasing amounts of data that shows a correlation between the school calendar and suicides of children and teenagers. That to me is simply horrifying.

As an adult, there are so many companies out there that are looking for creative people that can flex their thinking muscles and not necessarily fit into a box. When you think about the type of skills that employers are looking for, they all stem from being playful. Here I have thought of a few examples for you.

* Verbal Communication – you need to play with your ideas in your head first, so that you can then talk about them confidently to others so they understand.
* Teamwork – you can’t get on as a team if you are not willing to be playful with the ideas and opinions of others!
* Initiative – being proactive and thinking on your feet is a play based skill; being able to change direction, take charge and offer up solutions involves being confident enough to be at ease with making these decisions. Something that play allows us to do!
* Drive and Determination – ever watched a child determined to make their tower taller than themselves? When they get stuck but don’t give up until they find a way to make it happen? = PLAY!!!
* Organisation – some play may look like a complete mess to an outsider, but there is always some method to the madness, you just have to be able to see into the mind of that child what their agenda is and what they are attempting to do from the plan they set themselves.

I really do feel that we need to speak up more and more about play and not only save its place in early years provision, but to bring it up further throughout schooling and into the world of adults. Lego doesn’t have ‘up to age 99’ on its boxes for no reason! Playing with children not only teaches them, but it teaches us to have patience, understanding and to let go of the rules that we experience in our adult life. Being playful in your own life allows you to let go, relax, be creative and yet again, HAVE FUN. I just LOVE play! I realise more and more that I tend to have better days when I have played. When I feel down or restless, I can trace it back to not being playful enough. The more opportunities we create to play, the more we save lives.

I would love to hear your stories about the power of play. Please share a moment you have experienced – it can be about you as an adult, you as a child or an interaction with someone else you know (child or adult).

I also highly recommend that you watch this video about the decline of play, by Peter Gray.

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Emma is The Play Coach who loves everything and anything to do with play. Play is children's work and she thinks it should be adult's work too. Connect with Emma for consultations and trainings that promote wonder, joy and well-being through the power of play.

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