A powerful hero lives among us that society often takes for granted. Play.
Play is an experience that goes beyond a book or a device. Play takes many forms, and holds endless possibilities and latent power.
However, the almighty and powerful digital media, where you can be transported anywhere in the world while hiding underneath your bed sheets, consumes our minds. Given the rise and societal dependence on the digital world, play has become increasingly essential. And for some reason we deny it—deny it in schools, deny it in work, deny it from day to day, because it is viewed as frivolous. Play is silenced before we can even understand its significance.
Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp devoted time to studying the value of play and the brain determining, “the function of play is to build pro-social brains, social brains that know how to interact with others in positive ways.”
Digital media implicates play as a threat. Why? The virtual world gives us permission to ret
reat, while providing the illusion of community. When that becomes the norm, play becomes counter intuitive. The question is how to we reconcile the relationship of play with the virtual world? More importantly,
how can children develop a sense of self when they are unable to challenge themselves to experience childhood through a less filtered lens.
Play allows for discovery. Social interaction. And accountability. Anonymity defeats accountability in the virtual arena. Logic would suggest we must encourage play in all facets of development given the extensive research to support that. A beautiful thought. Let the fanfare begin. Alas, we retreat from schools yards and parks, narrowing the definition of play, framing moments rather than discovering them. Moments of carefree laughter sprinkled throughout the day—a curious rather than an expected sight.
What is the culprit?
It is not entirely the fault of the evolving virtual world.
Play is vulnerable.
It removes barriers because it requires us to be present. Vulnerability can be scary. Our ideas, thoughts, humor, our pain, our insecurities are exposed face to face. Play encourages children to interact. Human interaction though is becoming less relevant with social media. It makes sense that children would shy away from play, when they have an alternative escape. It is suppressing our natural instinct to play. It may be easier, but not necessarily healthier or productive—more the reason for schools to promote the play, beyond the technological shackles. Let’s compliment this virtual arena with the freedom of play.
Allowing children to be in playground, in a park, on a field, surrounded by boxes, creating art, building a fort, outdoors, indoors, exploring, wherever it may be, influences their intelligence. Collaboration and negotiating occur in times of play when children share ideas face to face. These skills naturally evolve when in an environment that promotes play.
The question then becomes, do we want to live in a society where we eliminate social interaction? That goes against human nature. Who does the education system benefit when we deny our human need for social engagement? It may be easier to avoid people nowadays, but we cannot escape them.
Play is at the core of development. It is pointless to build a home on foundation on quicksand. Let’s not allow the maturing brain to become the quicksand under what we expect to carry adulthood. Allow play to flourish. Allow play to provide balance. Let’s treat play with the respect it deserves and no longer take it for granted.
About The Author
Greg is the Founder/Executive Director of Artcentricity Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit project based Arts Organization, geared towards child development. He is also an Author and US Play Ambassador. He currently resides in New York and has a strong passion for Visual and Performance Arts. Connect with Greg here.