Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Develops the Personality of Children

Published on : 8 January 2018

Without demarcating a strict definition of play, but there are some key properties of play that all children exhibit:

·       Apparently purposeless but actually driven by motives known only to the child.

·       Voluntary

·       Inherent attraction – ah, it’s just plain fun!

·       Freedom from time

·       Diminished consciousness of self – you’re in the moment, in your zone

·       Improvisational potential – open to chance

Most child psychologists see a six-step process of play, which players may or may not go through in order.  These are:

·       anticipation

·       surprise

·       pleasure

·       understanding

·       strength

·       poise/balance

If you think of children you know, you’ll recognize most of these steps in their play. It’s what they do, and generally, do well. During a week at the beach, children eagerly anticipate a day at the beach with the “best surf.”  There is some surprise in seeing how big the waves are on any given day. There is intense pleasure as bodies are thrown into the surf repeatedly or bounce into the crashing waves, and then ride boards into the shore.  There is understanding and strength as these actions are repeated building neurological connections which will serve them well in the future (physical strength and coordination, knowing their limits, risk taking, appreciation and respect for nature).

There is no sense of time, just the sheer pleasure and innate desire to keep at it, at least until the hunger pains cause them to head to a cooler area for a quick lunch.

The innate desire in children to play allows them to make sense of their world, solve problems and develop social skills and a sense of autonomy. By “play,” we mean real, imaginary and unstructured play.  Something compelling and interesting, where the setting, characters, problem, resolutions are devised by the child or with peers – not organized teams or activities.  

These traits and our biological drive to play do not need to fade with age, but often, they do.  If we are lucky, we find work that is rooted in many elements of play.  The work we find most fulfilling is almost always a recreation and extension of youthful play. A running coach, an artist, a sailor, a software designer, a teacher – could each probably identify parts of their playful youth which keeps them returning to a job in a related field now.

But play in adulthood can be found in everyday activities such as puzzles, games, sports for the sheer joy, learning about the world or acquiring a new skills.  Learn alongside your kids, and that’s play, too.  How many of us make the time to play each day, where the obligations, task lists, duty to others is set aside for just a bit?  Research is showing that that “down time” yields greater productivity, creativity, and longevity. Really. Play can do that for you, if you let it.

The start of the school year is inherently a time of new beginnings. For kids, identifying hopes and dreams for the school year is more significant than New Year’s resolutions.  Every day is a new beginning but the start of the school year olds such promise for each of them. Clichéd as it is, play is children’s work and early childhood educators and parents can’t do enough to help the world understand to the significance of that work.  Perhaps if adults revisit play themselves and experience the joy and benefits of play, we’ll better understand why it is essential to childhood.  To that end, PLAYBOX is also making a conscious effort to engage in something playful each day. Join us.



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