George Bernard Shaw, an Irish author, playwright, critic, political activist, and the recipient of the 1925 Nobel Prize in Literature once said
We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.
And was he right in so many ways! Playing is a fundamental part of everybody’s childhood. If we believe in what Mr. Shaw here says, it is important throughout our lives if we wish to live a healthy and prosperous life. But what does it truly mean to play and how does it help us, if at all it does?
All Work & No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy
If we go by the dictionary definition, to play means to engage in an activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. Now, as much as the first part of this definition, i.e. ‘to engage in an activity for enjoyment and recreation’ is correct, many would now say that the latter half is absolutely not.
A considerable amount of research out there which is indicative of the profound benefits playing has on the overall development of a child. Playing helps the brain in growing and developing, establish new neural connections, and in a way makes us more intelligent. It improves the ability to perceive others’ emotional state and to adapt to ever-changing circumstances.
The famous play theorist Brian Sutton-Smith was a firm believer of the fact playing helped a lot in child development. He said that playing helps children develop the neural connections and pathways which will be needed for later learning. It helps children learn how to learn.
Children who play regularly with their peers are most likely to achieve the highest levels of adjustment as adults.
According to a 2012 research, the benefits of play on healthy child development are numerous. For starters, it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children. It states that playing enhances the progress of early development from 33% to 67% by increasing adjustment, improving language and reducing social and emotional problems. The same research quotes play therapist O. Fred Donaldson as well who says that children who have been allowed to develop play resources receive many enduring advantages. They develop a universal learning skill. Playing maximises their potential by developing creativity and imagination. it promotes joy, which is essential for self-esteem and health. The learning process is self-sustained based as it is on a natural love of learning and playful engagement with life.
Children who completely miss out on playing or do not play as much stay deprived of all these benefits. This deprivation shows visible effects in later stages of their life. Apart from the very obvious effects physical health, it may also prevent children from reaching their full potential and developing their cognitive skills. An article that was written by Esther Etin for The Atlantic also stated that a decrease in play also increases the possibility of anxiety and depression in children.
Play and STEM
Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.
– Fred Rogers
Like Mr. Rogers, a famous American television personality and the creator of an educational television series for children entitled Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, rightly points out, playing is to children what working, having a job, or running a business is to us adults. It comes naturally to them. And since they are innately curious, playing becomes a wonderful opportunity for them to learn new things.
Learning while doing something hands-on is a proven method of truly understanding it and retaining in the memory for a longer duration of time; even forever perhaps. Not only is it fun and engaging, but it also makes children truly think deeper and harder to come up with new ways and solutions to existing situations and problems. This, in turn, helps their problem-solving and motor skills to develop. It makes them more curious, creative, and innovative, qualities that stay with them forever and would help them excel in life in the future.
Learning while doing is also at the core of a concept that has taken the front stage since quite a long time; the concept of STEM Education, a fusion of Science, and Mathematics with Engineering, and Technology – the disciplines which help the economy of the world to thrive and ensure a healthy society. There are many reasons why the children of today should be encouraged to dive deep into STEM at an early age, and we’ve talked about it a lot.
Considering that playing is an incredible way to learn new things and that STEM is all about learning the concepts while experiencing them in the real world, it becomes quite clear that playing is indeed a novel way to incorporate STEM into the lives of children from the time they start exploring the world and asking questions. And because parents are the first teachers in any child’s life, it becomes their responsibility to motivate them and explore STEM. This responsibility, however, is not like the others. It is something that doesn’t require any ‘prerequisites’ and gives them the opportunity to be actively involved with their children in what they do.
In A Nutshell
Playing is something that children are introduced to shortly after they are born, and is thoroughly enjoyable. It thus becomes an incredible occasion for them to explore new things, learn about them first-hand, and develop their overall skills. And STEM championing experiential learning makes it all the more evident why playing is extremely essential for the growth and development of children. Parents should, therefore, motivate their children more and more to play, to explore their surroundings, and to learn new stuff by discovering it themselves.