As many of you already know, we had a visitor this week who shared his passion for rockets with us. Out in the cow pasture, David (our visitor) excitedly launched a variety of rockets, noting what made each one special, and his passion was infectious (in fact, I’m very eager to learn how to make a rocket myself)! David started playing with rockets (coincidentally in cow pastures) when he was about the age of our students, and he is still playing with rockets three or four decades later! In addition to sparking a new-found interest in rockets, David also provided me with something even more wonderful — a beautiful example of the importance and power of play.
Here at the Nature School, we believe in child-led inquiry and education, and play is a critical part of that. What is play? Play is self-chosen and self-directed. It is intrinsically motivated (so the means are more important than the ends). It is guided by mental rules. It is creative and imaginative, and it is conducted in a relatively unstressed frame of mind (though alert and active).
What do children get from play? They learn how to direct their own activities and solve their own problems. Play is how they discover and pursue their own passions (like David did). It’s how they learn to control their impulses and behave in accordance with shared conceptions of how to behave. The risks they take allow them to handle their fears. The imaginative designing, hypothesizing, and planning involved in play are essential for human thinking!
Play is also trivial, and its triviality is what makes it so powerful! When children are given the freedom to play, they are given the freedom to fail, to have their minds open to new possibilities, and to practice for the real world. They are not judged or assessed when they play. Play is trivial, but it is not easy. Much of the joy of play lies in the challenges!
What happens when we don’t give children the freedom to play? Well, here’s an answer from Dr. Peter Gray, a local researcher and scholar, in a TED Talk he gave on the topic.
Much of what I’ve written comes from Dr. Gray’s writings and research. And play isn’t just for kids, grownups! The happiest adults I know are those whose work doesn’t feel like work or who continue to incorporate play into their lives. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.
Looking forward to our next adventure,
Maura and the Nature School Team