All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy! An often heard comment but recently research shows that there is much truth in this simple saying. Dr. Stuart brown says in his book ‘play’ that people in jobs are not able to find solutions to problems or make new discoveries or survive a crisis efficiently all because they have lost touch with play in their lives or were brought up in a ‘play less’ environment. He says that “those who had worked and played with their hands as they were growing up were able to “see solutions” that those who hadn’t worked with their hands could not. They couldn’t spot the key flaw in complex systems they were working on, toss the problem around, break it down, pick it apart, tease out its critical elements, and rearrange them in innovative ways that led to a solution.”
If play teaches us all of the above then what happened to play? What is leading to its slow extinction? many reasons, car parks have replaced ball parks, making children achieve trophies and medals has become more important than learning a play skill or a game, if a skill cannot earn us money or a living then it naturally loses its importance and the feeling that play is a waste of time, as the world works on the premise that every minute of an individual’s life should be productive, and play is definitely not perceived as productive. And as Dr Brown says- Play activities don’t seem to have any survival value. They don’t help in getting money or food. They are not done for their practical value. Play is done for its own sake. That’s why some people think of it as a waste of time. It is also voluntary—it is not obligatory or required by duty.
So how does play help us? Play has its impact in varying ways in all our stages of life. As a baby lying in a cot, play is about the random movement of the hand hitting the toy hanging in the crib, here this random play teaches the baby about cause and effect and he learns to internalize this action to get a reaction which is the movement or the sound of that toy.
As the baby becomes a toddler, play is about touching , shaking and throwing every object and this leads to the child understanding about holding, picking up, letting go, enhancing the neural networks of the brain as it helps excite the 5 senses, the pathways to the brain and it also helps child develop eye hand co-ordination and fine motor development.
As the child grows older toys become his play, balls, dolls, teddies, cars involve him and he is able to explore, talk, relate to others and learn through trail and error.
Then comes the symbolic play stage, when he is able to substitute a block of wood to be a telephone and he plays differently using each object to be something else, not many adults know that symbolic play is what will help a child in later reading and writing. How? let me explain, first a child will use a telephone as a telephone in his doll play, then when he does not have a telephone, he will substitute it with an object that looks like a telephone and pretend that it is a telephone, so we can say that he has learnt to represent the telephone with another object. Now lets understand reading, first a child recognizes the picture of a ball, and then slowly he learns to read the word ball. For him the word ball immediately brings to mind a picture of a ball. so reading is nothing but representation of letters to mean a picture! Now if this child is not allowed to play games that involve symbolic play, his reading and writing will naturally suffer.
As the child grows older play is about group games, games with rules and rough and tumble play, this kind of play is again important in our later work life as rough and tumble play teaches you how to recognize signals from their playmates, signals about stop, or I am enjoying, or I want the play to end. in rough and tumble play the players may be squealing with delight or with fright, and players learn to recognize and use these signals for social development and social skills development. These body signs will help in later work life relationships. Have you seen teenagers indulge in rough and tumble play, when you watch them you might feel they are punching and harming each other, but it is nothing but harmless rough and tumble play, also helpful for ‘cardiovascular health’.
Play continues even in adult life when we joke with friends as part of play or play pranks on each other or have impromptu bets or challenges or play a game of estimation like , ‘guess how many runs will Sachin make today?’ all this is nothing but play, it relaxes us, helps us bond , helps relieve us from stress and makes us happy.
So then does it mean that we should not put our children for badminton coaching or cricket coaching or drama classes? No, it does not mean that all clubs and classes should be banned or all competitive activities should be taboo, it only means that play should bring our life back to doing everything in moderation. so clubs, classes and competitive activities are essential but if that is all your child will do then it robs him of a sense of mastery of his life, it teaches the child to be dependent on others for scheduling his activities it steals from them the enjoyment of creating their own games. So instead I would suggest for every hour of scheduled activity that your child indulges in, give him 10 minutes of unstructured play time to rejuvenate his senses and recharge his brain cells.
Here I would like to quote something from dr. brown’s book that always makes parents sit up and take notice-
His sea squirt is an ugly creature. In this larval form, it has a primitive spinal cord and bundle of ganglia that act as a functional brain. This tiny brain helps it move selectively toward nutrients and away from harm. Like most oceanic creatures, juvenile sea squirts spend their time growing and exploring the sea.
Once the sea squirt grows to adulthood, it attaches itself permanently to a rock or a boat’s hull or pilings. It no longer needs to monitor the world as it did as a juvenile because the passing current provides enough nutrients for it to survive. Its life becomes purely passive. The adult sea squirt becomes the couch potato of the sea. In a surprisingly macabre twist, the sea squirt digests its own brain. Without a need to explore or find its sustenance, the creature devours its own cerebral ganglia. It’s like something out of a Stephen King book: “All work and no play make sea squirt a brain-eating zombie.
The sea squirt is an example of a basic principle of nature: Use it or lose it. If a capability is not being used, it becomes an extravagance that is jettisoned or fades away. Either we grow and develop or we waste away.
Most animals grow new nerve connections extensively only during the juvenile period. The sea squirt stops moving, and many higher animals stop playing, and the brain stops growing.
But not humans. The brain can keep developing long after we leave adolescence and play promotes that growth, we are designed to be Lifelong players, built to benefit from play”
So choice is ours –play or grow or don’t play and rot the brain cells away! Then why not play? Did you know that everyone has a play personality? Yes, just like humans have different learning styles like auditory (learn by listening) visual (learn by seeing) and kinesthetic (learn by doing) similarly we have our play styles-
Looker- we like to watch people play, so we watch cricket matches or a golf game or watch people dance etc and get the same enjoyment that we would have had we been participating.
Listener- we love to listen to jokes or pranks, we even like to tell jokes and enjoy it when people laugh as listening to laughter and enjoyment is the play for these people, they are also avid email forwarders and sms forwarders. They like to hear from others about ‘play’
Movers- are the pranksters, they like to be the ones playing games, pranks, planning and organizing, they will love to be on the field and not off it.
So what’s your child’s play personality, what’s your husbands play personality and what’s yours? Now imagine if all three of you have different personalities, it would be fun to watch you play together!