Play was, and still is, the way we learn to work together. As children, some classmates were better than others at playing together. Watch children play, those interactions have a way of working themselves out. Young children are very understanding, empathetic, and playfully engaging by nature.
Sometimes there are processing issues and disabilities which interfere in the social engagement process of play, yet those students are still able to demonstrate creativity in their world. Aren’t those two components of playfulness? Social engagement and creativity? Steve Gross, his staff at Life Is Good Playmakers, and the current army of Playmakers all would agree. Sometimes it boils down to an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes a child struggles with play because of their physical ability and sometimes that interference is grounded in the invisible confines of the mind or emotional world. What are we teaching our children and are we reaching them at their developmental level? If not, why not?
Children who play learn about themselves, others, and their surrounding world. Children who do not play, in the traditional sense, learn as well. The questions we need to ask, “What are we teaching our children and are we reaching them at their developmental level?” If not, why not?
What are the results of children’s’ decreased opportunities to connect with each other through play?
Activity: Think about your earliest memories of playing as a child? Could a child today engage in that (or similar) type of activity? As Rod Stewart sang in Ooh La La, “I wish I knew then, what I know now,” could also be true – maybe you didn’t like what those games taught you. I know a few of those memories like jumping off the railroad bridge into the channel, throwing blocks, running forward while looking backward. We all have them. Think of the good ones that you really miss. What are they? Did you feel more connected to classmates then?
As an adult, do you ask yourself – what is going on? Could it be the lack of opportunities to play?
Raising children who are allowed and encouraged to play will have significant impact on the number of bullying incidents and negative impact victims feel when bullied. Children who bully others typically were not taught empathy, which means bullies, were literally not taught to feel with others. They may have felt the same feelings as their victims, yet they are not empathizing and connecting. If they were empathizing with their victims, wouldn’t they stop bullying others?
I believe bullying is a product of two things – not being connected to peers and not getting what they need (emotionally) during formative years. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a witch hunt. This is to highlight the fact that play as an intervention is designed to counteract the causes of isolation and disconnect we are witnessing as a society.
Play encourages joy, creativity, social engagement, and internal control (empowerment). When we as adults are willing to encourage play among children by playfully engaging with children and be less controlling of the outcomes I believe we will see less negative outcomes in the area of the academic and social aspects of our society. Yes, play also encourages greater learning in the classroom. Think back to a time when you were scared or uncomfortable in your own classroom. Could you focus on the teacher? Did you really care about the curriculum if you were worried about something that happened at lunch, recess, or on the bus? Thoughtfully and playfully engaging children in physical activities that encourage joy, creativity, social engagement, and internal control will have exponential impact on our children, our students, us, and our futures.
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