Go ahead, ask folks about the concept of PLAY. Ask as many people as you have access to. And listen. Listen for what they are really saying. Most people respond with what they do to play, such as: shop drink, read, party, eat, travel, gamble, fish, and a lot of sports (watching and participating).
As adults we equate PLAY with doing something that feels good, usually costs money, has to intrude into our “normal” lives (which means we have to organize and make time to PLAY), and which we usually look forward to, enjoy at the moment and often regret (loss of money, time, self-respect and health) after we have engaged int he activity.
Now look at how we apply PLAY to children. From our own experiences of childhood play co-mingled with our adult experiences, here’s some beliefs of most of us adults as applied to children and PLAY:
- Children need time to play.
- As soon as possible, we need to organize so that children can play in a structured way–this allows the child to learn, exercise and make the most use of play time.
- Children, if not directed otherwise, will often squander their play time.
- Children often want to play when they need to be doing a household or school task.
- Children often make a mess when they play by themselves.
- Children don’t understand the concept of what is really important.
- Whenever possible, make sure that a child has the correct tools to play, or the child will not learn correctly.
- Recess is for play, the classroom is work.
- Children have to be entertained to enjoy “down time.”
What we lose as adults is the child’s innate understanding and ability to interact with Metaphor. When we lose that developmental ability, we lose the essence of learning from creative endeavor. HUH? What does this mean?
Here’s the equation: Play is to a Child : Work is to an Adult
The achievements, growth, understanding, learning curve, self-respect, intellectual expansion and social skills that adults gain through their work, children gain through PLAY. Children need both unstructured play (on their own time, inventing with their own tools) as well as structured, interactive play provided in some way by adults. Both creative and structured play time give children the ability to grow, learn, achieve and most of all, look forward to more of these experiences.
Play can be applied in the classroom (remember we learn the most from the experience), at home for tasks (“how much longer does it take to walk backwards doing all the dusting/setting the table/taking the trash out/walking the dog–as opposed to walking forward or sideways?”) and in sitting in the backseat of the car (“can you sing an opera about what you see as we drive by?”).
It is the experiential in life that teaches us the most about ourselves and others. Children need to experience (“hands on”) the messy as well as the controlled. They need to have access to non-judgmental play time that allows them to work out their problems, as well as test new abilities. Just like work for us adults, children need to have a boss (parent/teacher) that encourages the courage it takes to “try it.” Valuable lessons are learned from both failure and success (failure usually teaching us more than success).
So give the gift of PLAY to your child. Be non-judgmental during that creative, rich metaphoric time of life. And then cheer your kid on for both failures and successes. Maybe we can change our and their concept of PLAY for the adult in all of us.
Be gentle with PLAY, for both you and your child.