The Importance of Play

importance of play

As we enter our fourth week of staying at home, having just had an extension to the current lockdown measures for a further 3 weeks at least, I have increasingly reflected on the different experiences we are all having, depending on our own specific circumstances.

On video calls with family and friends around the world, I am asked ‘What is happening with schools in the UK?’ ‘Are your schools doing online learning?’ ‘How can I ensure my daughter does all of this work?’ ‘I’m trying to hold down a job as a single parent and I’m utterly stressed that my son/daughter is falling behind.’ ‘I made my son work for a whole day, because he’d been lazy all week.’

You are, no doubt, aware of many varied approaches by different schools.
It is not surprising, therefore, that parents may be feeling confused or anxious about what the right approach is for their child, and questioning themselves over what they should or could be doing to support their child, in order that the learning can continue. One phrase I hear is, ‘I don’t want her to fall behind.’

So let’s stop for one moment and consider the situation we find ourselves in. What are some of the challenges? And I won’t have covered them all here, so forgive me if I miss something that you are finding critically important in your own situation right now. But I hope that I can offer at least some insight into how we can all help ourselves to find a positive mental and emotional state whilst we continue to deal with unusual and new daily stresses.

You might be trying to manage full time work at home right now, possibly with increased pressures from the work environment to deliver on key projects, whilst at the same time finding yourself to be the full time carer and educator for your child or children. You might be battling with how to get shopping done safely, monitoring your child’s activities, cooking and all the usual household pressures, whilst also questioning where time for yourself comes into this. You might find yourself faced with impossible financial challenges that are sending stress levels through the roof, with finding yourself unemployed suddenly, or with the worry of whether your job will continue or not. You might be supporting a stressed partner, whilst doing all of the above!
And on top of this, you are asking yourself, ‘How am I supposed to give my child the time they need and make sure their schoolwork doesn’t suffer?’

Well, first, take a breath. In. Out. Slowly. Repeat.

Next, let’s talk about the importance of play. And I don’t just mean for the children. But for you too.

Here at Rackenford Primary School we are encouraging our parents to not worry about teaching their children in any traditional 3R’s way. If you can do it, and you want to do it, all good. But it is good to understand why play is an important part of learning and growing too. We hear this statement a lot, ‘play is good for learning’, but what does it actually mean? Maybe you have doubts about this, as certainly our society today generally doesn’t seem to give a huge importance or attach huge value to play under normal circumstances. We have been conditioned into placing huge value on academic achievement, and of course, it has a valuable place in our lives. However, it is by no means the only important and valuable activity that we can achieve.

When you look at play theory that exists, you begin to realise the extent to which play is a critical and crucial part of our development and wellbeing as humans. So much so, that play is a Universal Right of Childhood. It is written into the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Article 31 states that ‘Children have the right to relax and play, and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities.’ The UK is just one country of all but two in the world, that have ratified this convention.

And this is not to say that you now have to worry about what resources you are providing your child for play! On the contrary, children are very good at taking everyday objects and finding new and unexpected ways of using them. Play is fundamentally important for enabling children to deal with the stresses and strains of everyday life and can be valuable in enabling children to recover from traumatic situations.

So how can play help?

Stop for a moment and see if you can define play. It’s not as easy as you might think. I know when I ask my son at the end of the day, what was the best bit about school today, he will often answer, ‘Breaktime.’ And I will admit to having thought, ‘well, so much for the lessons then!’
Play is actually very difficult to define but here are a few key points about play:

Play is something freely chosen
Play is creative
Play might be alone or with someone else
Play might involve emotional exploration
Play explores reality and rules and enables the creation of new boundaries, outside of those that adults might set
Play helps us make sense of a world through our own perspective
Play can be self-directed, or it might be rules-based play, like a board game
Play is intrinsically motivated – it is a means and may not have an end
Play allows us to explore our world and also to escape from it if we need to
Play helps us explore and experiment with identity

There are so many more that could be added to this list. When you start to think of play in such a wide sense, it is easy to see why play is so important, and not just for children, but for adults too.

My own particular play, my own activity of choice and self-direction, lays in my hobbies of art, writing, photography, gardening, music, running…. When I start to think of all the activities that give me a sense of calm and serenity, a sense of rebalancing, growth, self-esteem, identity, I realise why all these things are important to me. I also know I get stressed and anxious if I go long periods of time neglecting to take this time for myself to ‘play’.

So I encourage you all, all of our lovely families, to allow play to happen, the mess, the chaos, the creation, the arguments and resolution, the social development, negotiation skills, exploration of self and identity, role play and experiencing a new way of ‘being’, boundary pushing – the innovators of the future. Let children be self-directed, so long as you know they are safe, in a safe environment, then they can freely explore and self-direct their play.

It is okay if you have to be busy with work and you ‘haven’t been able to give them much time.’ They are self-directing, they are choosing, they are growing and learning. But remember, that if you can join in with some play, it might just be you that benefits the most, as you rediscover the joy of engaging in ‘the means that doesn’t have to have an end.’

As educators, we are all here for you and if you feel you need any advice or guidance, or if you feel you want more structured ideas for learning, or more ideas for play activities, we are here to help. Please keep sharing all of your wonderful activities and creations. You are totally inspiring and consider yourself now as teaching the teachers!

Now go and play…

Kathy Perry
Play Leader
Rackenford Primary School