PLAY-ing EXPERTS (Part 1)


“It’s good for us to play”

PREVIOUS: Childhood Play – Stages (#2)

ARTICLE: “The Importance of Play

QUOTE: “A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who does not play has lost forever the child who lived in him, and who he will miss terribly.”  ~ Poet Pablo Neruda

ACoAs: Some of us may still think this topic is frivolous, not to be taken seriously. We tend to be even more afflicted than most people with the ‘Adult Syndrome’ of not seeing ‘nearby objects of amusement’, oblivious to the possibilities of joy. In fact, each of us DO have the ability to draw on a happiness & sense of humor that comes from inside us. But we’ve been so conditioned to work hard, to suffer & shut up about it! that we can’t imagine ‘letting go’. It makes us uncomfortable, squirming in our seats. You can’t ask us to just sit around & relax, do nothing, & try to have fun. For some that is pure sacrilege, for others blatant disobedience.
SO – it’s useful & important for ACoAs to read what some of the students of Human Nature have to say about Play.

“Free play”, the purest form, is what kids are designed to do – it is unstructured, self-motivated, imaginative, independent, where children initiate their own games, & even invent their own rules. Free play is critical for “becoming socially adept – allowing children to develop competence, exercise self-control, follow rules, form interests, learn to —animal play
get along with others, make decisions, make friends, regulate their emotions & solve problems” – without being traumatized! WOW. Research into animal behavior confirms Play’s benefits, establishing its evolutionary importance: Playing & being playful provide animals, including humans, with skills that help them survive and reproduce.

EXP: According to the American Medical Association, when adults take a vacation from work, even a four-day weekend, we’re more inventive, productive & healthier (fewer sick days) when we return.
> And, a study led by Princeton researcher Alan Krueger found that people are at their happiest when involved in leisure activities.

• There are many books, articles & whole organizations focused on PLAY, such as — The American Journal of Play, The National Institute for Play, the National Museum of Play, the National Toy Hall of Fame, The Strong (educational institution studying play, in upstate NY), the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play, the International Play Association, the International Center for the History of Electronic Games,  etc.

A few of the EXPERTS
Many of the most prominent researchers in the field of psychology (Freud, Jung, Piaget, W. James, Lev Vygotsky….) considered Play an intrinsic part of the human species, & had strong views on how important it is to child development.Freud
Freud regarded play as the way children accomplish their first great cultural & psychological achievements – noting how well & easily it allows them to expressing their thoughts and emotions. This is true even for an infant who may ‘only’ be returning its mother’s smile, called Attunement Play. He believed that young children could be overwhelmed by or unaware of what their emotions are except by acting them out in play-fantasy. Other psychoanalysts have noticed how children use play to work through and master quite complicated psychological problems of the past and present, leading to the formation of Play Therapy.

Dr. Stuart Brown, psychiatrist, was assigned in the late 1960s to evaluate Charles Whitman of the University of Texas Tower massacre, & later interviewed 26 convicted Texas murderers for a small pilot study. He discovered that most of the killers, including Whitman, shared two abuse/no playthings in common: they were from abusive families, and they never played as kids.  In the years since then he has talked extensively to almost 6,000 people about their childhood, & yet again found “that a lack of opportunities for unstructured, imaginative play can keep children from growing into happy, well-adjusted adults.”  At age 76 he’s still hooked on playing. (TED Talk)

Cindy Dell Clark is an anthropology professor at Rutgers University-Camden, studying how children use play to cope with chronic illness such as diabetes and asthma. She found that kids use their imagination to handle stress & make sense of their disease. Most children (& young animals) roughhouse or fool around, but not all societies provide time & opportunity for pretend-play. Many materially poor cultures focus on the family as a unit, needing their asthmachildren to do chores, which is essential to their economic survival. However, more prosperous societies see Play as important. Because they can afford to consider everyone as autonomous individuals, & want their children to become independent, the children are encouraged to use their imaginations, tell stories & act out roles.

Karen Hutchison is a play advocate and expert, teaching at Rowan University, & the U.S. delegate for the International Play Association’s “Right To Play” Award in 2012. She’s concerned that in recent years Play is under attack. It’s being curtailed in the U.S. by parents trying to protect their kids from harm or over-scheduling their ‘free time’, while schools are cutting recess for economic reasons. Since the 1970s, kids have lost, on average, 9 hours of free playtime a week! She messy playcommented:
“True play is unstructured. It’s messy and it’s child-initiated. Not allowing them to go onto the playground and get scraped knees and even broken arms is doing more harm, by preventing them from learning what they can or can’t do. Experience is the best teacher. That’s what play is all about.” (MORE….)

NEXT: Play-ing Experts (#2)

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