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The Forgotten Art of Play

Updated: Dec 17, 2019

In a world so focused on outcomes and accomplishments, it is no wonder that play is under threat. What costs come to a culture absent of play?

Welcome to what I hope will be the first of many blog posts introduced to share with you snap shots of some of the things I have the privileged to have learnt through my work with children, young people and families. If you have any particular questions or topics of interest please don't hesitate to hit me with your recommendations.

Working with children it is rare that I have a therapy session in which play is absent. Often I question how much my job can be considered work when you can often find my blowing bubbles or playing snakes and ladders. Although at first glance this may not look like work I assure you that through this common play some of the most important brain work is being done. Let me a share a little bit of information about how this is possible.

What's play?

Play therapist define play as "A physical or mental leisure activity that is undertaken purely for enjoyment or amusement and has no other objective ."

This definition initially made me wonder, if play has no other objective than enjoyment why is it so important that children across ages and cultures are drawn towards it? Is it possible that despite play not having an objective children are consciously aware of, that it had a purpose so fundamental that their brains instinctively know it is necessary to development? And from these thoughts down the rabbit whole of play research I went.

The brain in play.

If you watch a child play for any length of times you will see the need for them to employ a range of developmental skills. For example climbing up a play ground rock wall sees them using problem solving skills to determine where to place each hand and foot, playing dolls lets them rehearse and replay social situations, and a game like snakes and ladders requires them to develop skills like patience, turn taking and emotional regulation.

"Scientists have recently determine that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brains - unless it is done with play, in which case, it takes between 10-20 repetitions!" - Dr Purvis.

I think most parents are used to the feeling of repeating themselves 400 times in order to teach their children these self regulating skills. It's exhausting, ineffective and pretty far from fun. I wonder if next time you have a skill you would like your child to work on whether you can create a play activity that requires this skill? If your child struggles with linking cause and effect could you spend time playing dominoes this week, or if your child is experiencing anxiety maybe a game of whats the time mr wolf is in order.

The possibilities with play are endless.

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