For children, play, is in part a rehearsal for life, a way of working things through, experimenting with their world in a relatively secure environment.
But what happens if children don’t get time to play freely and without adult direction?
Studies show that children who are play deprived may display behaviours ranging from being unable to mix socially, through varying forms of antisocial behaviour. Conditions such as ADHD may be linked, in part, to a lack of freely chosen play experience, through to the most extreme cases where play deprivation has even led to mental illness and a retardation of brain development. One sited study is that of children in the orphanages in Rumania, in the 1980’s, where as a result of no play experience and little human contact, the children went into an almost catatonic like state.
Around the world, much research has been undertaken into the benefits of freely chosen, intrinsically motivated and self directed play, and the many ways this aids the development of children, socially, physically, intellectually, creatively and emotionally.
Bob Hughes, a leading play theorist and practitioner in the UK, suggests that there are at least 16 different play types, displayed by children as they play. (Bob Hughes. A Taxonomy of Play Types – Playlink 2002)
Play types: social, socio-dramatic, rough-and-tumble, exploratory, object, creative, communication, deep, recapitulative, symbolic, fantasy, dramatic, imaginative, locomotor, mastery and role play.
Loose parts. Have you ever noticed that if you leave old junk lying around, kids will almost inevitably play with it? Whether it be old cardboard boxes, wooden pallets, pieces of wood, old tires, bits of rope or string, kids will use their imagination and ingenuity to make something. This may make your garden look like a junk-yard sometimes, but the experience for the kids is invaluable and it will keep them occupied for hours. Don’t try and direct the kids in their play, just let them get on with it. Nicholson, S., “How Not To Cheat Children: The Theory of Loose Parts”, Landscape Architecture 1971
Play cues and play frames. This theory draws an imaginary frame around the area that the child or children are playing in. This frame is the child’s play space and as such should be left to the child, unless you are given a cue to join in. This may be as obvious as a straight request to join in or maybe something more oblique….you may be asked a question or for help. What ever the situation, the adult is only there to facilitate the play and not direct it. So once you have fulfilled the child’s need for you to be there, look for the cue to move away. Be aware that the child may still want you involved in the activity. Perry Else. Adventure Playgrounds; a perfect frame for play. 2003.
Edge of Chaos. When children play they tend to play in a slightly chaotic way. What this theory shows is that children play best when they are on the ‘edge of chaos’. On one side of this ‘edge of chaos’ is the state of ordered play, where the child may be directed or organised in the way that they play. On the other side of the ‘edge of chaos’ is complete chaos, where children find it difficult to play, possibly as a result of bullying, lack of boundaries or real fear for their own safety. Arthur Battram and Wendy Russell 2002.