The power of play
We’re born to play for a reason and it shapes our brain from the cradle to the grave
Although taking time out to play is important, Brown stresses the value of “infusing your hourly, daily life with playful capabilities – so there is not this rigid separation between work and play”.
In western culture, the attitude is to keep them separate, he adds. “If that becomes a fixed adult pattern, I think there is play deprivation.”
Children are spending more time on academic subjects, competitive sport is being introduced at a younger and younger age, and there is huge growth in passive electronic gaming.
“We think these things are more important but in fact they don’t sustain us the way play does. Play is the basis of all learning.”
For Gunning, the title of Dr Stuart Brown’s book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, says it all and it’s why she wanted him as one of the keynote speakers at the organisation’s forthcoming Global Gathering.
“I believe we should seek to promote play at every opportunity because of the benefits – physical, social, cognitive and emotional – to children.”
The three-day gathering, under the title “Today’s Children, Tomorrow’s World, Turning Points?”, takes place on October 17th-19th, at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
The opening day, when Dr Stuart Brown will speak, will focus on the power of play.
For those interested in attending, see the full programme and how to register on earlychildhood2013.ie
The seven patterns of play
In the interaction of infant and parent – smiling, gurgling and baby talk – the right cerebral cortex, which organises emotional control, is “attuned” in both.
Through play and movement, we think in motion. For instance, leaping upwards teaches you about both your body and gravity. Play-driven pleasures associated with exploratory body movements sculpt the brain and prepare the player for the unexpected and the unusual.
Curiosity about, and play with, objects is a fun and evolving pattern of play. It has been shown that as skills in manipulating objects – throwing stones, banging on pots – develop, so the circuits of the brain become richer.
“The science of progressively more complex object play and its relation to overall competency has sparked research interest in corporate ‘work readiness’, in that a deficiency in fixing things by hand during one’s youth may well mean deficiencies in complex problem solving in challenging work settings as an adult,” according to the National Institute for Play.
This is a vital aspect of play, from the romping around of small children to complex banter among adult friends, which can be broken down into three forms. Firstly, play creating a sense of belonging; secondly, rough and tumble play that provides the roots of empathy and the “give and take” of social interaction; and, thirdly, celebratory play, which may be observed at a child’s birthday party, among a music festival audience or big match crowd.
Imaginative and pretend:
Something we associate with small children, but it remains key to innovation and creativity throughout our lives.
Helps us make sense of the world, from when we are listening as a child in our parent’s lap, to watching a film or reading a best-seller as an adult.
Stories “give us permission to expand our own inner stream of consciousness and enrich our personal narratives with pleasure and fun”.
Fantasy play can transcend the reality of our ordinary lives and help to germinate new ideas. For instance, at the age of 16, Einstein is said to have imagined what it would be like to ride a sunbeam at the speed of light.
Source: The National Institute for Play in the US. See nifplay.org for details.