Stuart Brown emphasizes the importance of play in children as well as in adults. He suggests that those who spend their childhood without play will suffer the consequences as adults. He says that humans are the most playful of any species and are therefore more able to adapt to situations than other species. His argument was reinforced when he referred to research done on rats. He said that the rat group that was restricted in their play by the researchers were not able to adapt to a certain situation like their counterparts who were allowed to play, and therefore died as a result.
Although this speaker did not direct his ideas specifically towards education, I was able to take some of his ideas and link the two. He suggested that object play (hands on play) is very important in one’s development. He argued that those who did not have enough object play or who had not had any in a long time struggled to solve problems. This idea supports the inquiry based learning approach that is being brought into schools all over. Students need to figure things out themselves, they need to touch things, manipulate objects, and reach their own conclusions in order for the knowledge to really stick with them. No wonder it would be hard for someone who has not had enough object play to solve problems!
Late in the presentation he spoke about how play can be used in the work force. He showed a short video about how the use of play in a staff meeting can be beneficial to productivity, enthusiasm, and the workers’ moods. The video showed the workers participating in one form of play – they were writing their ideas down on each other because they were all wearing white Tyvex suits. All of the workers were engaged–of course, since it was a staged meeting. Brown says that play should be an essential part of our every day lives, including staff meetings. I was left wondering, however, if something like drawing on each other can be considered play since it is a forced action? What if one or more of the participants are uninterested in the proposed “playful” task? Is it still play? I picture play as being something spontaneous that meets the needs that you have at that exact moment. What may be fun one day (skiing down a mountain) may not seem fun the next day (while you’re nursing your sore muscles and swollen butt!).
I agree that play is very important to a child’s development. I don’t have the slightest understanding of what play does to the brain and the neurons and the synapses, but I do remember how I felt when I was playing as a kid. I am left pondering, however, how I could incorporate this emphasis of play into my classroom when I believe that play is something spontaneous. How can I play for play? How can I develop an activity that I know all of my students will enjoy? I think I have yet to develop a lesson or an activity that every single student liked, let alone enjoyed. Is that even possible?
I think it would be interesting to hear Brown, or any other researcher on this topic, speak about how to incorporate and encourage play in a school that meets the needs of all the students, the teacher, and the school environment. I definitely think that would be a challenging task, but perhaps it is one worth the effort…