I recently watched a TED talk entitled Play is More Than Just Fun. The speaker was Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist and play researcher. He has done fascinating research. On of his larger studies has linked mass murderers to play deprivation in childhood. I know that is a heavy subject for a quick blog post, but that is how important play is for our young children. I am a bit passionate about the topic of learning through play so I of course loved the talk. Here are the highlights if you are interested!
Play starts at the youngest age, with unoccupied play, as soon as a baby is old enough to have a social smile a bit of playing can begin. It is a parent’s natural instinct to babble and touch a coo when their baby gives them a sweet smile, and babies respond with their own little playful acts.
Play is not a rehearsal for adult life. It is a separate biological entity. Play has a biological place just like sleep and dreams do.
As proof of this Dr Brown mentions a study they have done on mice. During a mouse’s adolescent there is a stage where they do a lot of playing. Researchers took a group of mice and isolated them, not allowing that play to happen. They let the control group of mice continue to play. When both of these groups where introduced to a cat smell the control group of mice ran and hid. Then after some time they timidly came out of hiding to explore and see if their environment was safe. The group of mice that had not been able to play also ran and hid when they smelt the cat, but this group never reemerged. These mice stayed hidden and ended up dying rather than check their environment. Obviously play, for these mice, was more than just pretending to be grown up mice. They were learning much more!
Dr Brown reminds us that the opposite of play isn’t work, its depression! Imagine your life without any play. Imagine no movies, humor, flirtation, games, fantasy, or sports. These are all ways that even as adults we play. Humans play through their whole life!
Here is a new vocabulary word that we should all be proud of. Neoteny, it is the retention of immature qualities into adulthood. As humans we are the most neotenous of all species.
Dr Brown also talks about the different types of play, object play, rough and tumble play and the importance of them all. I would love to do other posts talking about each one, in time, so I wont go into that now, but worth a listen if your interested. Click here for the video.
In conclusion, when studying the brain, nothing lights up the brain like play!
My take away from this is how play is so incredibly crucial to our lives. Of course as children, play teaches us so much. It teaches social, emotional and physical skills. It helps us learn problem solving and risk management. It helps us develop cognitive skills, communications skills, how to work as a team and take defeat. The list goes on and on. Play is also crucial through out our lives. Even as adults we participate in play. It is still one of the best ways to make new friends. It also helps us alleviate stress and feel pleasure and happiness!
If you got to the end of this post I hope you have found something that will help you value play in your own life and that of your child.