Kids Need Free Play and Their Imagination to Build Serious Skills

It is not the strongest species that survives,
nor the most intelligent,
but the one most adaptive to change.
~~Charles Darwin


Is there more to life than PLAY? What is PLAY?

While it may be difficult for many to comprehend our line of thought process, it works for us and our children. My husband and I did not need a scientific study to validate our beliefs and approach in parenting. It was comforting however to listen to a NPR segment recently talking about the Mickey Mouse show--first aired something like 50 years ago--how they figure that moment and everything after it has changed children's lives and how they play.


Before then, a child's play involved kid’s imagination immensely since it was more about the activity than the toys involved. For my childhood, my parents did not have extra money to spare outside of daily essential. Most kids I knew used things as the props for whatever we were doing. Nowadays, toys direct the activity.

I agree I would rather kids come up with their own activities--or at least not have toys that restrain them to using it in a single specific manner only. I never really noticed it especially if you see what a toy galore our home is--but I do rather prefer their toys that aren’t so specific - you know ones where they can do all kinds of different things and let their imagination run a little bit more freely. Like art medium, lincoln logs, legos, tea sets...playing basketball or rollerblading outside or going up to a park. At times, it’s probably not so great that my little (some might argue on my wording of “little”) controlling side takes over; I’m quite sure as they get older this will change and I hope will release a bit.

My hope is that we are encouraging their imagination to run wild a bit more though. I remember as a kid playing in the woods a lot over the summer...playing along creeks and falling out of a tree or two a few times that must have had at least 10 years' worth of kids nailing wood planks onto it; building dams in a little stream a lot; petting the horses; pretending a princess in need awaiting my prince charming to sweep me off my feet...Mind you--some of these was private property and I definitely was not supposed to be there (and was run off a few times by the owner.) It's definitely not “safe” by anyone’s standards (c’mon … I fell out of a tree!) especially now.

Last week, I listened to another NPR segment relating to this under NPR - Your Health. Since references these segments won’t be there soon enough, I included below their direct links for you to ponder on:

Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills (this is the segment I wrote about)
Creative Play Makes for Kids in Control
Q&A: The Best Kind of Play for Kids

All these led me to ponder on why is work--in its current definition--an activity that does not encourage imaginative possibility. Unlike play, work is something that we generally learn to do. We can spend days and weeks learning the methodology of tennis, but we will not have a complete understanding of it until we actually play tennis. There are things one can learn, and there are things one needs to master. Play is something we need to master—the missing and essential element that complements what we learn as work. It is the continuous learning and unlearning of very simple things—play patterns—that lead to the mastery of simplicity.

Imagine Tennis Hall of Famer Boris Becker. Now imagine his job description. Essentially it would read very much like this: “Serve an ace.” But his job requires both strategy and tactics. What is the strategic goal? Serve an ace. How does this happen? Tactical execution. The tactical execution is play. Strategy and tactics—as in imagination and creativity—are blended when you play. In this free activity of make-believe, with no time limits, play as tactical execution requires imagination. Before swinging the racket, most expert tennis players will visualize every aspect, from the plane of the racket to the opponent's court and the landing of the ball. All of this requires imagination and the ability to adapt quickly as conditions change. In play, conditions change all the time, requiring one to adapt, re-imagine, unlearn, and learn again.

In effect, this is really the primary dynamic of life: markets, industries--societies, bodies, and ecosystems all change constantly, requiring us to constantly re-imagine, unlearn, and learn, again and again. In order to meet the demands of our dynamic modern economy and society, we must learn how to unlearn.

At mid-30, I was blessed with another opportunity to learn to play with my children. I advocate free play--not just for young ones--children in all ages and especially us grown-ups. Are you ready to play?





When you want something,
all the universe conspires to help you achieve it
~~Paulo Coelho

1 encouragements:

Kaylynn's Mommy said...

Sarah, I agree with you about choosing toys that encourage a child to use their imagination! I also had the opportunity to frolick and play in the woods, creeks, and barns! I had so much fun as a child...and I didn't have many toys!

True learning-learning that is permanent and useful,that leads to intelligent action and further learning, can arise only out of the experience, interest, and concerns of the learner.
John Holt
Real heroes are men who fall, fail and are flawed, but win out in the end because they stayed true to their ideals, beliefs and commitments.
Actor Kevin Costner
 

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