When I think of play, I think of children in the backyard, free to do whatever it is they please. It’s something children do to amuse themselves, or an exercise for recreation. Play is a behaviour that is freely chosen, personally directed, and intrinsically motivated. Childhood play is crucial for social, emotional and cognitive development.
The word play is usually used to describe the activities of children from babyhood until the early teenage years. There is no neat definition that will cover all the meanings given by parents, early years and play work practitioners and other adult commentators – let alone how children talk about play when their opinions are invited. Yet there are some common themes:
• Play includes a range of self-chosen activities, undertaken for their own interest, enjoyment and the satisfaction that results for children;
• Very young children, even babies, show playful behaviour when they explore sound and simple actions and experiment with objects of interest;
• Play activities are not essential to meet basic physical survival needs. But play does seem to support children’s emotional well being as well as a wide range of learning within their whole development;
• Children can play alone, but often they play with other children and with familiar adults. Even very young children engage in simple give-and-take or copying games with their peers, older siblings or with adults;
• A playful quality in activities is shown by the exercise of choice, enjoyable repetition and invitation by children to others to join the play;
• Yet children’s play can look serious. Players may show great absorption in the activity and disagreements can result from a difference of opinion about how the play should progress.
When children are asked how they feel when they play, they said: “Happy, it cheers me up”, “Great, because you get to be outdoors and play with your friends”, “Excited”, “You get muddy!” Play is basically a way for children to escape the world that controls them, and puts them into a world all their own, with their own rules.
According to my professor, Sal Guzzo, play is a rehearsal of life. It teaches children the different roles that will present themselves in life. It also teaches children how to interact with other, and influences their behaviours, good or bad. He also said that it prepares children for things much greater in life, such as jobs, provides confidence, but also teaches failure, and is an instrumental to making who you are. Even Karl Marx envisioned a world in which there would be no difference between work and play. In that sense play would be something that is enjoyable, something that occupies ones thoughts and dreams. Play might even be a little bit addictive or obsession forming.
In my opinion, play is not only for children, but for anyone! It’s a way to escape the world, and feel free if even for just a moment in our busy lives. Sure, children run around screaming with joy when they play, but just because we know that we shouldn’t do this, doesn’t mean that we don’t have these same feelings within us, most people are just afraid to admit it because it is seen as childish to play.
Children’s Play Information Service, National Children’s Bureau.
Personal Interview, Sal Guzzo, Sociology professor.