Let the Children Play... and the Adults too
Daughter: “Daddy, you be the prince and I’ll be the wicked witch, and I’ll put you in my cauldron”
Me: “Sorry honey, Daddy has to work”
I always feel bad after having a variation of this conversation with my children, like I’m opening up the window to their future adult life and the forecast is all work and no play. Recently I’ve got to know a man in his 60s who values play at all times. Whether he’s at work or in the garden, chatting with a friend or with a client, he’s playing. His play is infectious, warm and fun, and it got me thinking… at what point did the rest of us separate work from play?
Playing for children is not only fun, it’s their work. Neuroscientist Nathan Wallis says so. It’s how they learn, develop social and cognitive skills, process emotions, and basically make sense of the world and their place in it. An adult without play can be bitter and resentful, a child without play, however, will never be an adult. I know this from witnessing the effects of intergenerational family harm in my role as a support worker.
So back to my question… when did we separate work from play? According to Wallis it’s at that precious age of between 5 and 7 when we sit children down and force them to read and write, as opposed to encouraging whatever it is their little minds are curious about. In his seminars on brain development in children, Wallis promotes the development of play-based learning in primary schools that research indicates will promote better outcomes later in life.
But playing is not only important for children. In adults it builds connection, promotes feelings of wellness, and builds emotional resilience (If you want to know the truth of this take any surfer away from the ocean and see what happens). So let’s play more and work less, or better still let’s play at work and school, and offer our children something brighter to look forward to.
Author: Rowan Aish is a mental health and family support worker, co-founder of Parent Village, and surfer.