Do you remember being scolded for playing? Perhaps you were told to straighten up and sit still, or to stop "being silly" or stop "fooling around" (demeaning terms for play). These are common experiences in a society where grown-ups hardly play at all. It is as if we have forgotten how to play, and play is reserved only for the very young, often only at recess, or only in sports. Adults are mostly game watchers instead of game participants. Yet we remain aware that the spirit of play, which often has no obvious purpose or goal, is a magical ingredient that makes every experience more alive, and makes learning memorable. If play is so elusive for adults, when does it stop for us as children? Does it stop with school?
According to Dr. Stuart Brown (author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul
), if children have not played – used their hands to create and build and repair things, activated their minds in imaginative play, and indulged in fun physical pursuits – then they will lack problem-solving skills as adults. In order to be happy, smart, and successful, we need to play! In fact, Dr. Brown asserts that we can improve ourselves at any age, if we just engage in play.
The opposite of play is not work, but depression. Work, when done well, includes play. This applies equally to learning experiences. I collect games for teaching purposes: word games that teach parts of speech or storytelling, creative brainstorming techniques often used for poetry, warm-ups for playwriting, improvisational theater games, and then I make some games up myself. But games are not enough. I also wear a playful attitude; ready to embrace whatever the classroom has to offer. I might sacrifice one of my own games (or any lesson plan) for something that occurs spontaneously, and it is through those marvelously entertaining moments that we often create our best work.
More Information on Play:
Articles by Laurie Block Spigel
Books on Play:
- Magical Child, by Joseph Chilton Pearce
- Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, by Dr. Stuart Brown. (Read more information and download chap. 1 at Dr. Brown's website.) The author founded the National Institute for Play. This much talked about book draws on the author's research on convicted murderers guilty of heinous crimes, and their common stories describing lack of play in their childhoods.
- Stuart Brown's TED talk on Play is More Than Fun.
- Playing for Keeps: Life and Learning on a Public School Playground , by Deborah Meier, Brenda S. Engel, and Beth Taylor – recently released (June, 2010), The authors bring a lifetime of public education experience and insightful observation to this work.
- Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by John J. Ratey.
While exercise is the focus here, there is much discussion of play and how it lights up the brain and makes deep learning connections possible.
- Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, by Stephen Nachmanovitch
This book explores the ideas of creativity and improvisation, with an emphasis on the importance of play.
- Handbook of Recreational Games, by Neva Boyd
Neva Boyd was Viola Spolin's teacher (Ms Spolin wrote Improvisation for the Theater). Here you will finds a wealth of games that can be played with children, each providing a special learning experience.
- Kids Play: Igniting Children's Creativity, by Michele Cassou
This author also wrote Life, Paint and Passion, and Point Zero: Creativity Without Limits. While her focus is on art, she also helps the reader to understand the power of play and creativity.