This month (perhaps while you were taking a few well-earned days off) the National Public Radio (NPR) series Playing to Learn presented a fascinating look into the relationship between play and learning. At this time of year when so many of us put summer relaxation behind and get back to the “serious business” of teaching, it is important to stop to remember that a continually stern and sober environment is not the best environment for learning and teaching (or business, for that matter, but that’s another blog).
The series began with a humorous but important look at one hypothesis about why we play—it is how we learn to be social.
In these days when bullying seems so pervasive and so much of our society, from the playground to the legislature, seems full of contention, I can’t help but wonder if we are suffering from a play deficiency. There is evidence that play itself has been in decline for the last 50 years, particularly unstructured free play (see, for example, Gray, 2011). If we need play experiences to navigate our relationships, might we be seeing the sad results of that decline? I don’t know, but it is a question worth asking, and I’m grateful to NPR for giving play the attention it deserves.
Play is essential in developing emotional maturity, problem solving, communication skills, and imagination. One of the keys to creativity is the ability to explore the world playfully, to experiment with ideas, turn them on their head, and look at them from another direction. Our need for play–and playfulness–continues throughout our lifetime. If you’d like to explore the importance of play beyond the NPR site, you might explore the Strong National Museum of Play, the National Institute for Play, or Scott Eberle’s blog Play in Mind. Play, in truth, can be serious business.
The series ends by quoting head of the National Institute of Play, Dr. Stuart Brown. I couldn’t agree more.
“What you begin to see when there’s major play deprivation in an otherwise competent adult is that they’re not much fun to be around,” he says. “You begin to see that the perseverance and joy in work is lessened and that life is much more laborious.”
The NPR folks summarize by saying, “All work and no play makes everyone a whole lot duller.” And I’d add, less creative as well.
Now, as so many of us contemplate the hectic fall schedules of home and school, it is important to consider where play fits in. I’m going to think, too.
Gray, P. (2011). The decline of play and the rise of psychopathology in children and adolescents. American Journal of Play, 3, 4, 443-463.