The Importance of Play

These are excerpts from a class I taught on development, in particular on the key role of play. Thought it would be a good reminder with which to start the weekend.

Caplan - We believe the power of play to be extraordinary and supremely serious. Play is a child’s way of life practically from infancy to his eighth year.

The young child plays from early morning until he goes to sleep at night. It is the most natural way for a child to use his capacities, to grow, and to learn many skills. What is it that gives play its exceptional power? Playtime aids growth. An important by-product of play is the feeling of power it gives a child, offering soothing relief from the sense of inadequacy and frustration that many children experience as junior members of a well ordered adult society. In play, the child is free from environmental threats. Play reduces the stress of anticipating success or failure. Play aids learning. The infant lives essentially in a play environment. Little is expected of her except she thrive and learn to amuse herself. By and large, she accomplishes this by responding well to her nurture and choosing her own way to play with the people and objects at hand. The infant selects those activities she can manipulate and control to her own satisfaction. Here is a “self-choice” environment, and her play is voluntary, self-directed, and intensely personal. Therefore it has a high degree of motivation. Because of the self-choice, she builds confidence in her own powers.
No one knows for sure what is the price of stopping young children’s play, of curbing their initiative and spontaneity, of deadening their energy, of blocking their social exploration. We are playing with fire when we skip the years two, three, four, and five, and hurry children into being age six.”
There is a small but knowledgeable group of early childhood educators who would purposely delay academic work until the child’s seventh birthday (the beginning of second grade) because they have found from long experience that children can acquire these “tool” subjects much more efficiently when they have more physical and mental maturity than during their earlier years. And some researchers in the field of play have found that six-year-olds are still actively involved with play and fantasy, and are not prepared to abandon this medium of expression simply because school bells are ringing. Throughout our presentation of the early childhood years, we sometimes go beyond the twenty-fifth to seventy-second months of life because there is no sharp break in the time a child gives up pure play and begins to concentrate on symbols. Moreover, the age at which various achievements can be noted may vary considerably from one child to another.

Play is investigative.
Play encourages deep interest and close attention.
Play is a voluntary activity.
Play offers a child freedom of action.
Play provides an imaginary world even a child can master.
Play provides a base for language building.
Play has unique power for building interpersonal relations.
Play offers opportunities for mastery of the physical self.
Play is a way of learning adult roles.
Play is vitalizing.
Play enables children to learn and polish physical, mental, social, and emotional skills.

Epstein – The work done by the therapist is directed towards bringing the patient from a state of not being able to play into a state of being able to play. Both therapy and meditation, as disciplines, require the gentle coaxing and cajoling of the mind from a contracted state to a momentarily open and playful one.

Lowen – Playfulness actually begins in childhood, but reaches its full development after this phase has passed. The consciousness of play and the feeling of joy are characteristic of the young boy or girl rather than of the child. The boy or girl challenges its personal world in its play. The increasing mastery of motor skills and the games with other children constitute a form of playing that is joyful because it is free and richly rewarding. There is a higher degree of excitement in the play of boys and girls than in that of younger children.

Roberts (“Seth”) - Play is a very important, indeed vital attribute in the development of growth and fulfillment. Children play naturally and so do animals. Creatures play because the activity is joyful and spontaneous and beneficial, because it activates all portions of the organism. Children utilize a remarkable imaginative freedom, so that they can experience alternate events with as much focus, strength and vitality as that which with they experience ordinary life. When a child is playing, its sense of joy or anger or danger is very strongly felt. The child’s body will reflect those conditions that would be elicited as if the so-called “play” events were real.

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