“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” Kay Redfield Jamison.
When I was a girl, I lived in a small country town. Each afternoon, the neighbourhood became a huge adventure playground for my brother, my sisters and our friends. We played at each other's homes and backyards, and all kinds of different games. Do you remember 'What's the time Mr Wolf?', 'stuck in the mud', French cricket, hide and seek, hopscotch, jacks, elastics, skipping? Endless fun. There were many rules to our games but the only real rule was this: that we would return home each afternoon before dinner time and before it started to get dark.
Of course, things have changed drastically in the time since I was a child. My own children have encountered a vastly different experience of childhood to mine. So many factors now have a bearing what children do in their spare time; not least both parents working, busy and congested streets especially in the inner suburbs of cities, the need to structure after school activities around busy timetables and work schedules, our children's extra-curricular activities like music, sports or dance.
So while the places children play may have changed – for many it cannot be a vast expanse of back yards, bushland or quiet streets, research still shows that playing is an essential ingredient in the cognitive, physical, social and emotional development of our children.
At the end of Term 1, I was preparing to wish the junior school girls a wonderful and safe holiday when I came across this quote "The world is yours to explore." (Anon) I wasn't expecting the girls to walk out their front door and do whatever they wanted, instead, I encouraged them to put down their technology and to play outside. The major benefit of unstructured play time is, without a doubt, fostering creativity and socialisation – two skills so important to a child's development.
Teaching children social skills is not an easy task. This job also does not finish when children become teenagers, instead, as parents we find that the teaching of social skills is pretty much a life-long process. When children engage in play, they are naturally learning these skills through their interactions with other children. They are learning negotiation, collaboration and conflict resolution – let's face it, no child is always going to be happy to be bossed around by another child. They also learn to share while engaging in areas of interest and passion. These social skills develop more naturally in play rather than as lessons given in a classroom.
When children engage in play, they are exercising their imagination. They can become someone, anyone, they want to be. When my children were young, I would often watch them playing 'families' or 'schools' and I realised that they were actually mimicking me! This is a rather humbling experience as it dawns on you that your children are watching and listening to everything you say and do. Play time also encourages experimentation and innovation. It is always wonderful to see what amazing culinary creations children can come up with or what fantasy Lego animal or spaceship they can build.
When children play, they are learning skills for the future. The benefits are not just evident for children, but also for parents. Take the time to play with your children or watch them while they are playing. It gives you a great insight into how your child thinks and behaves. It is also a delightful time to take yourself away from the adult world and engage in a bit of make believe. A tea party with a five-year-old or a good game of tip can still bring a smile to my face.
Mrs Elizabeth Worsley B.Mus. Ed, MALPE, MACE Head of Junior School
St Catherine's playgroup will meet on 21 May in the junior school library.
An Anglican day and boarding school
for girls, Kindergarten to Year 12. Founded in 1856.
26 Albion Street Waverley
NSW 2024 Australia
Telephone +61 2 8305 6200