Carren's Pitch

Life by Design

2/27/2008

The Importance of Play

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Play is essential to the life of the universe.

--Robert Jackson and Dermot Killingley, Listening to Hindus


“Ano ba ang ginangawa sa pre-school yan? Naglalaro lang naman eh (What does she do in pre-school anyway? She’s just playing.),” said my mother as we picked my niece up from her pre-school one day and I resisted the almost natural urge to agree with her right away.

I was surprised at how easy it would have been to jump on the bandwagon and agree with common wisdom. A low ominous voice suddenly pops inside the corners of my mind saying, “Learning is supposed to be given inside classrooms with pen and paper in hand. Nothing of consequence is learned at play.”

Why does play always seem relegated to the lowest portion of the “important things in life” list?

While there are arguably many things that are not pleasurable in life but we are required to learn by pure determination, some necessary things in life are actually acquired in the process of playing. Just doing a simple online Google search can already turn up many benefits of playing, but the most striking of all to me was this statement from Tina Bruce, a professor in London Metropolitan University expert in the field of early childhood. She says, “Childhood needs play. Play acts as a forward feed mechanism into courageous, creative, rigorous thinking in adulthood.”

Play, notwithstanding the shallowness of this word’s connotation, actually is a means for us to expand our boundaries. It is where we learn to take calculated risks that require courage – to decide, to act, and follow through. Imagine the amount of courage it takes for a child to let himself fall on a steep slide. Or, in more adult terms, imagine how much of your inhibitions have to be removed to effectively play Charades with your friends.

Picture1: Learning courage (and gravity) on the slides

If this wasn’t enough, there is the eventual consequence of figuring out the winners and losers. Risking yourself in games also means exposing yourself to wins and losses. It means risking making a fool of yourself in the attempt to reach for the coveted win.

Another American authority on early education, James Hymes Jr. supports this theory of courage in play by characterizing it as “the kind of free-and-easy, try-it-out, do-it-yourself character that our future needs.” Playing and the consequent lessons in play foster a strong sense of belief in one’s abilities and a can-do attitude that is invaluable in daily life.

Perhaps the most eloquent descriptions of all comes from the father of kindergarten itself, Friedrich Froebel. His description points us to a whole different dimension of play that almost sounds very Zen in nature. He describes play as “the purist, the most spiritual, product of man at this stage…at once the prefiguration and imitation of the total human life,--of the inner, secret, natural life in man and in all things. It produces, therefore, joy, freedom, satisfaction, repose within and without, peace with the world. The springs of all good rest within it and go out from it.” This time, it’s not about the practical end of finding courage, but play is quite simply and unashamedly pure enjoyment.

These are indeed lofty praises of a pasttime that adults have a habit of degrading. It should give us pause to think about how play affects our children and even ourselves. Within the confines of the game, we are taught how to win… and how to lose. We learn the importance of playing fairly and we understand the concept of fulfillment, knowing that our efforts have come to fruition. We understand the exuberance and vigor that goes into the word, “Score!” and why there is an accompanying fist cutting through the air almost every time. In playing, we enhance our social skills or simply to spend some quality time together. Most importantly, playing helps teach us human values – of courage (to take risks), of fairplay (to compete by the rules), and to have fun. These are the very qualities that will remain with us far into the future long after we are done with our tic-tac-toes or hopscotch.

So, don’t forget to have fun and keep on having fun. It is non-consequential but essential to living life at its fullest.

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