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What is the Point of Play?
Nothing seems so undervalued in our society as children playing. At best it can be seen as a frivolous waste of time and at worst negative or dangerous behaviour. For years I have been at odds with people who have been critical of the emphasis I place on Play in the various settings I have worked at.
We have all had experience of adults who don’t seem to understand the value of play and sometimes actively seek to undermine it
“I don’t want my child getting dirty!”, “I don’t want my child getting wet,” “I don’t want my child going outdoors – it’s cold,” “I want my child to be learning NOT playing!”, “my child has a bruised knee – how could you be so irresponsible! ”,“I don’t want my child having fun!”
The bottom line is that no-
I find the most useful approach when I deliver play training for parents and other adults is to break down the benefits of play into 3 essential aspects so we can give parents a triple whammy of good stuff to really hammer it home (with actual hammers if necessary). These three elements seem to hit the spot with almost every adult that attends despite a variety of differing cultures and social backgrounds. In this series of articles I am looking at each of the three elements over a series of posts beginning with……..
Benefit 1 -
The neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp posed an interesting question. “If play is frivolous and serves no purpose, why has that behaviour not died out over thousands of years of evolution? Presumably a playing child would be more inattentive to predators and consequently more vulnerable? Why then do all mammals “play” despite this behaviour being potentially life threatening?”
The answer is fascinating. The only reason Play has survived in the primitive mammalian brain is that it must somehow be so vital to the survival of mammals that it has remained as an ingrained behaviour across countless generations despite its obvious draw-
Every time a child (or kitten, puppy etc) jumps, runs or skips they minutely increase the bone density in their limbs meaning they will have stronger bones in adult life. For primitive humans (and all mammals), stronger bones equated to an increased chance of survival in adult life. Every time a child has a tickle fight, rolls around the floor or climbs trees (or furniture) they build their physical strength, their balance and their dexterity, all vital survival traits for a prehistoric world. Every aspect of a child’s physical survival potential is trained for and developed through play, from their cardiovascular health and three dimensional spatial awareness to their adrenal response systems and immune system. But we don’t live in a prehistoric world so surely these physical survival traits have less value? True, we are no longer evading rampaging cave bears (sounds like a Saturday night in town?) but those same behaviours that prepared children to become strong healthy adults 200,000 years ago will help them become strong, healthy adults today and help prevent conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease.
The frightening fact is that we believe the current generation of children will be the first generation in recent history for whom life expectancy will decrease rather than increase as a direct result of the decline in these essential play behaviours and negative nutrition trends.
For play deprived children the lack of these fundamental, instinctive play behaviours can cause health issues into adulthood and crucially lower their life expectancy. The average screen time in this country is now over 6 hrs per day for children. These children do not always have opportunities for simple play activities at home meaning that school nursery, or out of school provision could potentially be the only environments in a child’s entire life where they are supported to simply play. There is compelling evidence to suggest that these moments of play do more for a child’s development and well-
As a final bit of evidence – Jaak Panksepp’s experiments with rats have demonstrated that rats who engage in lots of play thrive and survive, whereas rats who have been prevented from playing simply don’t!
Article by Ben Kingston-
In part two of this blog we discuss Part 2 -
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