As a therapist who works with children, as well as a preschool teacher, I am fascinated by the way children interact with their environment. I love the way children can spend an hour watching a bug walk across a leaf, and in the next moment pretend they are dinosaurs riding on a magic carpet. Watching children play in groups adds another layer, with social rules and norms that are often unspoken but somehow always understood among the children interacting together.
In a recent Ted Talk that I watched, a researcher and expert on play in all forms named Dr. Stuart Brown talks about why play is so vitally important to human development, and even to survival. Lack of opportunity to play has been shown to have far-reaching consequences, even later in life, his research has shown.
Dr. Brown examines play in nature– he shows animals at play that look like they are fighting and how innate it is in all of us. He argues that children should be allowed to roughhouse– “dive, hit, whistle, scream, be chaotic”– to find their own limits, and learn the boundaries of how far their wildness can go. Dr. Brown says that kids learn social cues, emotion regulation and that they develop cognitively and physically through these experiences.
Another idea mentioned in the talk is the connection between play and joyfulness later in life. Think back to the experiences in your childhood that were fun, and really resonated with you: did you love playing teacher? Did you love animals and pretend to play zoo? Did you build things again and again? Did you love to dance? It’s so important to think about how those experiences connect with us today, because it can provide you with a new way of envisioning your life- as not just living day to day in a job that you may have just fallen into, but perhaps finding your way back to a career or a hobby that you really connect with! Additionally, if you are a parent, helping your child remain connected to the things they loved to be around as a child can be a great way to help them hone in on their passions and dreams later in life.
Dr. Brown is a proponent of allowing children to play without interjections, without guidance, or redirection. He says they know what to do and how to do it. Those that don’t know innately, simply haven’t been given the opportunity to do what they are meant to do. It is vitally important that we allow kids to play, unencumbered by us. And, maybe if we offer ourselves the same playful opportunities, we can see how positively affects the rest of our lives.