Children need to play

The fact that children need to play is truly universal and goes to the heart of society’s success and failure. The Telegraph published an article in 2013, Children as young as five suffering from depression. In the same article the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) said that 8,000 children below the age of 10 are estimated to suffer from severe depression and that children under 5 can suffer from depression, yet “more needs to be done to identify such cases.” The fact remains that there is an alarming increase in the number of primary school children showing signs of depression, and this is not simply an issue for Britain alone.

The reason and solution may well be in the fact that children do not have the same access to play. The demands placed on them from all corners of society have contributed to this. I would urge you, for the sake of your children’s education, to take a moment to read this invaluable article from Peter Gray, a psychologist and research professor at Boston College.

Explore and play

He discusses the pioneering work of the German philosopher and naturalist Karl Groos. The Play of Animals (1898) and The Play of Humans (1901) examined what researchers today call the “practise theory of play” and it’s role in animal survival, and then human survival. Peter Gray’s research builds on this and looks at how hunter-gatherer cultures didn’t, and still don’t, have schools for that. Children learn by exploring, observing and playing.

What if we let children learn what they want?

He questions whether children should spend more time in schools learning. What if we let children discover and learn what they want? It turns out that if we give children unlimited free time to play and explore their own interests they soon develop the skills required for our culture. Give them a tablet and see how long it takes them to work it all out. Sugata Mitra’s computer experiment in India further demonstrates children’s ability to learn from their own exploration.

This underlines why children need to play and why we really ought to let our children play, explore, discover as much as possible. Further emphasising why we need to take a long, hard look at the way we educate our children. Do we really want more tests and exams that deprive our children of play, which leads to more anxiety, depression, and lack of creativity? We only have one childhood and it’s relatively brief, yet so fundamental to our entire life.

If you don’t get a chance to read it I’ll leave you with one quote from the article,

“You can’t teach creativity; all you can do is let it blossom, and it blossoms in play.”

For further reference pick up a copy of Peter Gray’s book, Free to Learn – Why unleashing the instinct of play will make our children happier, more self reliant, and better students for life.

You can also follow his blog, Freedom to learn.

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