Our children need to explore and have fun, it’s a key part of their development, as Hilary Wilce explains…
For all of us, summer is a time of play. Children play in the long days free from school. Adults play on the beach, or round the barbecue, or at outdoor festivals – the year I went to Glastonbury, my first thought was that this was a vast, colourful playground where 170,000 people were dancing, singing, dressing-up and pretending just like the children they had all once been.
Play is great. It helps us to develop communication skills. It aids problem-solving, underpins cognitive development and feeds the imagination. But not all of us remember to honour it all the time. Some of us think that work and chores are the stuff of adult life, and that for children the most important thing is to get top test scores and exam results.
Yet play sits dead-centre of who we are as human beings. It helps us to relax and learn, socialise, grow and develop. Without it, we are poor, stunted, joyless things who barely deserve the life we’ve been given.
“Play sits dead-centre of who we are as human beings. It helps us relax and learn, socialise, grow and develop”
So it goes without saying that play should always be an important part of school learning. Most of us understand that little children need to pour water and dig sand in order to better understand the world and their place in it. But what about later on? Think back to your own learning and it’s almost certain that your most vivid memories will relate to times when you were encouraged to do things for yourself and find things out.
If you can’t access any such memories, you must have had very dull schooldays, but imagine being nine and taken out into the playground to act out a scale model of the solar system? Are you ever going to forget being Neptune, at the far edge of the cluster of planets we call home? Or being 13 and being asked, in a geography lesson, to use sand trays and water flows to create your own sand dunes and meanders?
Play encourages interest and motivation. Learning times tables is hard and boring, but made much more fun when the ‘times table Macerana’ is used to encourage counting in twos, fives and 10s.
We are never too old to learn through play. At the introductory session to an MBA programme, run by a leading UK business school, participants were asked to run to one corner of the room or another, depending on whether they preferred talking on the phone or by email. The resulting clusters showed how few people were genuine extroverts, and how many were naturally more shy and unconfident. I’m not sure that life’s that simple, but I’ve never forgotten that visual picture of the prevalence of human uncertainty underneath our brave facades.
Playing is essential to our co-operative human nature. We can do it in a million ways – through singing, drama, sport, painting, cooking – and it will feed and enrich us.
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