Everything Depends on Play
According to the National Institute for Play, our brain imaging science has helped us to understand seven patterns of play as well as why play is a central part of neurological growth and development—Play is one important way that humans build complex, skilled, responsive, socially adept and cognitively flexible brains.
Attunement, or joint attention, occurs when infants first make eye contact and begin to socialize with their mothers. The experience gives each a surge of emotion (joy) which forms the foundation of the emotional “state of play” and which organizes the right cerebral cortex for emotional control. When adults share joint attention with children, they are in the emotional, joyful, connection where learning happens.
Rough and tumble play is the joy of movement which all mammals share. Innovation, flexibility, adaptability, and resilience, have their roots in this movement. Body movements such as leaping are a way of knowing, about the body, about gravity. Because it is pleasurable, we play with movement for movement’s sake. Movement develops stamina, oxygenates and sculpts the brain. A child playing with the rotational movement of a tire swing is helping her brain to develop directional orientation. The rotational movement is important for making the brain ready for reading.
Children engaging in object play develop curiosity and manipulation skills. The more children play with objects, the richer the circuits in their brains become. It has been shown that a deficit in this type of play in childhood yields a deficit in problem-solving skills in adults. Engineers, inventors, innovators all have had myriad opportunities to play and tinker with objects all their lives.
Social Play, unstructured play out of doors, is an important time for children to learn and rehearse the skills they will need the rest of their lives. Children learn to negotiate and resolve conflicts, while they invent games with their own rules. The cerebellum needs the whole-body movements of play to achieve its ultimate configuration.
Imaginative and pretend play forms a child’s sense of self and is key to the development of higher-order thinking. In Pretend Play, children also engage in Storytelling-Narrative Play in which children develop the ability to make sense of the world. Narrative Play is the basis of human intelligibility and communication.
Ultimately all play becomes Transformative-Integrative and Creative. It is in our imagination that our spirits soar in play. Einstein played with the concept of relativity by imagining himself riding on a sunbeam at the speed of light. All great human achievement is grounded first in play.
Everything depends on Play. What are our lives if they don’t include the fun and pleasure of Play? Play is where our Treasure is. Play is the Adventure of Life. Play is life’s Delicious Mystery. It is our noodling and doodling, experimenting and discovering that makes us co-creators of the universe.
“Do not keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.” ~ Plato