Play- A Thing of Balance
“We don’t lose the need for novelty and pleasure as we grow up,” Scott G. Eberle, Ph.D., vice president for play studies at The Strong and editor of the American Journal of Play.
From recess bells in schools to lunch breaks at workplaces, the duration of ‘playtime’ has always been distinguished from work in most institutions and organisations. Work and play are often considered contrasting concepts that can exist only in isolation in most formal set-ups making work seem tiring, stressful and ‘unpleasurable’ with humans always pining for breaks and vacations.
A plethora of research has been conducted to indicate that productivity increases when one is having fun; hence, play-ground style amenities, slides, ping pong tables, and game rooms have been increasingly introduced in start-ups and even multinational companies like Google. While a shift from the conventional, monotoned, 6'x6' cubicle space to a more inspiring, vibrant and creative space is underway, a large populace still considers playing as a waste of time.
There have been several theories that state why play seems pleasurable to kids and adults. One of them is explained by Sigmund Freud’s ‘Psychoanalytic Theory.’ It suggests that play is a catharsis that allows one to express his/her feelings and dispel negative emotions to replace them with positive ones. Play is an activity done for its own sake and is characterized by means rather than ends. As for children, play takes many forms for adults as well; from adult colouring books to word play with jokes and banter, from fantasy play to board games, from competitive sports to simply walking by the sea, play essentially helps to stimulate our cognitive functions, creative abilities and develop positive relationships.
In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
It’s rightly said that parents too grow with their children. While adults need some form of play in their lives, engaging in guided play with children can be a pleasurable activity bringing satisfaction and opportunities to bond with them. Being a discovery-based method, in guided play, a child directs an activity with adult support. The environment of learning is consciously created by responsive adults using various resources, materials, and communication tools that shape the learner’s ideas, define their choices, and enable them to explore their intelligence. While in free play children engage in free and unstructured activities, guided play is purposeful play created by adults.
In a world full of dualities like eating healthily v/s eating heartily, chasing career v/s maintaining a social life, striving for more v/s stopping to stare at the starry sky, play is the much-needed balance that lets a person be. Similarly, in guided play, a child can explore his being, gain knowledge organically as well as have fun. Guided play is one such opportunity where the adult and child can come together to play and learn.
Adults can participate in creating guided play a beneficial activity for children. Observing what catches a child’s attention can be effective as adults can then devise play-based activities surrounding the child’s interest. Mimicking, roleplaying and story-telling can not only be used to teach different concepts but also can be enjoyable experiences for adults and children. While it is fun to play different roles and embody different characters, language and communication skills can be honed.
Letting the learner lead an activity after one-time guidance will not only give him autonomy and responsibility but also increase his willingness to spend more time on the activity and boost his confidence the next time he/she engages in a similar activity. This kind of independence will enable the child to gradually reverse roles with the adult.
Adults can also use repetition as a tool to provide the practice that children need to master new skills. Repetition helps to improve speed, gives perspective, increases confidence, and strengthens the connections in the brain that help children learn.
Interjecting with questions at appropriate moments will allow room for inquiry-based learning; the child will be pushed to roll the wheels of his mind and develop curiosity about the workings of the world. Asking simple questions like “what colours do you see on your doll’s dress?” to more complex questions like “how do you think cars work?” while the child plays with his ‘hot wheels,’ can act as stimulators for discussions. Thought-provoking questions about cause and effect as well as hypothetical questions can be posed to widen his avenues of intelligence. Sharing factual information and providing explanations and descriptions is another significant tool of guided play to open the vistas of the child’s mind.
Lastly, it is of utmost importance to positively reinforce and celebrate a child’s victories and achievements as it will encourage further exploration and learning.
Pre-school years significantly determine a child’s pathway to adulthood. At this early stage of development, it becomes essential to give a holistic foundation that enables the child to embrace the world tomorrow with freedom, independence, and responsibility. Guided play indeed is an important channel for literacy development and advantageous for both children and parents as they spend time and learn together.