DISCUSSION: Should “play” have a higher status in our schools?

Play cartoon

Should teachers be planning “play” time as pedagogy?


Dr Gray has researched how the decline of play and the increase in mental disorders are related to one another. He suggests that the evolutionary function of play is to practice skills, both survival and socio-emotional.

Are we socially and emotionally crippling our students by not allowing them enough play and play-based learning activities?

Dr Gray documents why free play is essential for children’s healthy social and emotional development. Anthropologists research included in Dr Gray’s work found that children learn the skills they need to acquire for adulthood through play, and that these children that were doing so were the brightest happiest, most co-operative, most well-adjusted and most resilient children they had observed anywhere. Play is natures means of ensuring that young mammals acquire the skills that they need to be successful in adulthood. Free play has declined since the 1950’s, due to the: increased weight of school; the spread outside of the schools walls of “school-ish view of child development” (children learn everything from adults); the spread of fear of not watching our children; and then less children outside means that it is less appealing and safe for children to be playing outside in society. At the same time, there is widely documented research that has found in children: increased anxiety and depression, rise in narcissism, a decline in internal locus of control and a decrease in creative thinking. Dr Gray then goes on to outline steps through which we can bring free play back to children’s lives: some of which can be done at school!

The neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp supports Dr Gray’s research with his own. He says, “The function of play is to build pro-social brains, social brains that know how to interact with others in positive ways.”

Studies have found that the best predictor of academic performance in eighth grade was a child’s social skills in third grade. So if we really want to increase our student’s achievements, we should be looking at the structure of school and creating time for children to practice and develop skills through play.

Another hint that play matters, has been found by Sergio Pellis, that “countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less.”

First5CaliforniaGraphic courtesy of Mamapedia

Further reading:

http://www.nifplay.org – The national institute of play


It’s Time to Plan a Playdate with Your Child


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