When did you last do something your 7 year old self really loved to do? Personally, I cannot resist kicking through a big pile of dry,  Autumn leaves. I love that combination of gorgeous autumn colours flying through the air; the wonderful earthy smell of the ones that have already started to rot down at the bottom of the heap and then the satisfying crunch and rustle of the freshly fallen leaves on top.

Play is good for everybody’s mental health and is the very foundation of learning.Insufficient play opportunities can result in lack of confidence and even depression. So how are our young people doing today? We know from all the media (and possibly from our own experience) that many young people are really struggling with anxiety.  I am just wondering if this has anything to do with the chipping away of imaginative play in our schools and our family life and the advent of digital technology.

What is pushing play aside?

Why our obsession with measuring and assessing everything! In our rush to prepare young children for more formal learning we are forgetting to let them just enjoy being 2 and 3 year olds. This rushing ahead, trying to get a head start in learning has been shown to be counter productive.While schools drill literacy and maths skills what is being sacrificed? Creativity. It is worth noting that the Torrance creativity test is a better predictor than IQ of which students will become successful innovators in a host of professions. Curiosity is another casualty of drill and kill methods of instruction.

Screen time is having an impact on play too – especially outdoor play. When it is raining, it is much more attractive to sit in the warm on a comfy sofa with your ipad than to make the effort to wrap up; get your wellies on and splash in the puddles and listen to the sound of the rain gurgling down the drain!


What types of play are there?

Big Body Play. … Rough and tumble or big body play like running, climbing, jumping and even wrestling is necessary for proper brain development in children and beneficial for building relationships and developing healthier bodies.


Object play, such as playing with toys, banging pots and pans, handling physical things in ways that use curiosity. Throwing and catching a ball really develops hand and eye coordination.


Social play, play which involves others in activities such as tumbling, making faces, and building connections with another child or group of children.


Why should we get our youngsters outside?

  • Children who play outside develop better language skills, are fitter and have fewer behavioural problems.
  • They use five times as many words when they play outside compared to indoors.
  • There is a direct correlation between obesity and lack of time spent outdoors.
  • The freedom of playing outdoors improves children’s physical and sensory development and their imaginations.
  • It gives them permission to fall and to fail and builds their resilience.

How can we encourage children outside?

  • Let them be in charge of the adventure. We got our young daughters interested in walking in the Lake District using a wonderful walking guide designed especially for children to lead the expeditions. Years later they are still keen walkers.
  • Spotting plants and animals and entering the finds in a scrapbook such as the Cbeebies Wildlife Scrapbook is great fun and has direct links with literacy.
  • For budding scientists, Minibeasts are always fascinating. Lift up rocks and logs carefully and see who’s underneath. A clear plastic box and a magnifying glass will ensure that you can really see them up close for counting numbers of legs and antennae. Of course they need to be put back exactly where you found them.
  • Oh the joys of rock pools. Take care with footwear and maybe not touch everything you find. You are sure to find a handy leaflet or information board nearby to help you identify the animals and plants on the seashore.

  • Then there is the perennial favourite Pooh Sticks
  • Make a  Den in the woods.
  • Put up a tent in the garden to sleep in it overnight. What night sounds can you hear? Who is making them?
  • Look for animal footprints in the mud…
  • Make plaster casts of the prints….
  • Learn how to leave a trail…
  • Take time to dawdle; jump in puddles; notice the signs of the seasons.

Our society tends to dismiss play for adults. In his TED talk ‘Serious Play’ 2008 Stuart Brown explains that ‘nothing fires up the brain like play’ and that ‘we are designed to play throughout our lives.’ He says that we all have a play history. He recommends that we should go back to our earliest play memory and see how it relates to our careers.

I applied that to myself…….

I was lucky enough to go to primary school in Northern Rhodesia…present day Zambia. I remember that my friends and I played this fantastical imaginative game that involved running around the playground, swinging from the play apparatus; hiding from desperate, bloodthirsty pirates and I was the one who was making up the storylines egged on by my pals.

I also distinctly remember the headmaster, Mr Craig, a kindly man with a smiley face and crinkly, grey hair teaching us how to mime driving off in a car. He pushed the desks together and placed four chairs on top to represent the car seats. He demonstrated it first, stepping up onto the desks. He opened the ‘car’ the door, climbed in. He put the key in the ignition but checked the gear lever was in neutral first. He looked in the rear view mirror to make sure it was safe to pull out into the traffic. He wound the window down to stick his hand out, signalling he was about to pull out then he turned the key, a quick glance in the mirror released the hand brake and off he went! He then he got each of us to do the mime in turn  and really made us focus on the detail and I remember it so clearly 60 years later!

How do these early memories relate to my later career?  I became Head of Creative Arts Faculty with a passion for Drama and currently I am a consultant Education Coach. Go try it for yourselves and see where the links are.

References:

www.learnersedge.com?blog?importance of play

TED talk Stuart Brown/Serious PLay 2008

Blog by guest blogger: Jean Ramsey who has 35 years of experience in the classroom. Jean has worked across both phases but her heart lies in the Creative Arts.

She is married with 2 daughters and believes that life should be full of adventures and agrees with Eleanor Roosevelt ‘Do something that scares you every day.’ She is plucking up the courage to sail with her husband in their boat Moondance around Britain….sometime soon!

Jean specialises in helping schools to achieve truly coaching cultures. She works with head teachers who are feeling overwhelmed and struggling beginning teachers.