Last year, I had the privilege of attending a series of workshops that focused on the intersections of play and innovation, run by Stanford d.school and psychiatrist, clinical researcher and founder of the National Institute for Play, Dr Stuart Brown. In light of the return to lockdown, I spent time over the term break looking back over my notes about the importance of play and reading Stuart Brown’s book titled Play. Why is play important for both children and adults? How can we use play to effectively motivate ourselves and others? What are the benefits associated with young people engaging in play-like behaviours?
As children, we rarely need to be told how to play as it in instinctive. The ‘rules’ of play are shared as we learn about how to build cubby houses, play chasey or hide and seek. All too often, we watch our children at play and relish their joy, infrequently joining in. So many of us tend to think of play as a guilty pleasure, a distraction from work, bills and responsibilities. We often associate play with something that only happens on holidays or weekends.
Neuroscientists, developmental biologists, psychologists, social scientists, and researchers now know that play is a biological process that shapes the brain. It has been proven that a strong play history shapes one’s ability to empathise with others, to form complex social growth and to think creatively and innovatively.
At Ruyton, Middle Years educators, build play into our programmes and curriculum, whether it be through games days, role playing, writing and sharing and dramatic performances across all subject areas. The newly introduced Year 5 Love of Learning Electives this year encouraged play-based learning through dance, learning to be a stand-up comedian or role playing as an event manager. A Year 7 Humanities assignment on the World of Water allowed the girls the option to play as a news reporter. In Year 7 and 8 Innovate-Ed, the students played as astronauts on a simulated Mars surface, they played as real estate agents to promote the sale of a property, and they used play when building and manipulating robots. The Year 8 Urban Escape Programme also incorporates elements of gamification and play.
We know that our students demonstrate different levels of engagement in these learning activities, yet it is our intention that the novelty of the experiences and the creation of these opportunities will allow students to experience ‘flow’ through play. In the Middle Years, we know that student motivation to learning is enhanced when exposed to learning experiences that are inherently engaging and challenging, that arouse curiosity and provide real life experiences.
So how can you experience the benefits of play at home? Give yourself permission to play with your loved ones. Tell stories, reminisce, sing, laugh and dance with your children. Play card games and board games. And maybe even build a cubby house with your children. And do this because playing together will nourish the roots of trust, build empathy with one another and promote caring and sharing. If we can’t play at festivals, large celebrations and dances, let us play at home with our children. And don’t just do this on weekends!
Middle Years Co-ordinator
Ruyton Girls' School