“Play is the Nicest Thing…”
One of the nation's greatest brain scientists, my friend and associate Paul D. MacLean, once remarked to me, “play is the nicest thing nature ever did for us." He was referencing Play's power to help humans learn how to heal, communicate, civilize, solve and create. If we want what's best for our kids and what's best for the world, we can find it most deeply and meaningfully,in play.
Certainly, play is physical, but in the mind Play is an authentic state of mental health. It is the power to self start and self determine, to think for oneself, and to anticipate the space of others.
Play is the power to find and dwell in an interior space that makes us whole; space that gives us a voice and compels us to speak; space that invites us to be receptive, reflective, responsible, and resourceful.
In the daily academic grind, kids deal with failure, stress, and the fear of keeping up. They are made to feel “not smart enough” or “smarter than the next guy”. In the broader realm, public schools are vastly unequal; some are actually physically decrepit, and the kids in them are made to feel that they are worth less than, and excluded from, the entitled world. And while children have always been lined up, directed, disciplined (even subjected to corporal punishment), nowadays they’re actually being drilled to prepare for school shooter attacks.
The learning culture is under assault by special interests and entitled powers like Big Tech, Big Food, Big Politics, and Big Business, at a time when our classrooms should be protected space in which children can grow, free of these invaders.
Our Teachers are also economically starved, marginalized, and dictated to. How can kids learn from hostages whose job is to teach to the test and pass out worksheets (a regimen that starts in kindergarten?) In this environment, there is no freedom of movement or room for free expression. Instead, kids’ minds are drip-fed knowledge in a state of short answer, short leash learning.
Healing can begin within the space-time of the classroom.
What kind of learning culture do we really want for our children? What do we need in order to heal our learning culture? Answer: We can immerse the space and time with play.
Play can infuse joy. It can stimulate fun with language and words. It involves the hands and the mind. It sparks mindfulness, alertness, color, and action. It engages emotions which warm up the brain and prepare it for thinking and curiosity.
Testing isn’t going to disappear next month. But any teacher can infuse learning activities and units with Play, and invite students to do the same in their projects, creating space for collaboration and presentation. There is no longer one curriculum or one textbook. Content is abundant.
Families--especially the single parent--can be supported, involved, and empowered. Family Interests and hobbies can be included, encouraged and developed. Parents can be enlisted and empowered to demand space that is filled with all of these nutrients and more, because they nurture and support family time and life. This was always the natural purpose of play: preparing the young through closeness and safety.
Fixing and transforming the learning culture begins with kids, and builds on what they see and where they want to go. It allows them self-motivation and self-determination. It means following kids, and allowing them the freedom to pursue their ideas and make mistakes.
Not Just Any Play.
In the time and space we call the classroom, we are talking about tapping into a specially adapted kind of play. It is a form of energy that drives communication; a wavelength on which Play Energy travels. It is a play in which kids' curiosity and imaginations can thrive and express themselves. We are talking about time and space enriched and empowered by Play.
We envision a play-based culture that cannot, by its very nature, breed isolated outcast individuals who become depressed, suicidal, or grow into vengeful killers. Play, among so many other beneficial gifts to our humanity, is the very definition of mental health. If we start with appropriately applied play and stick with play, then we can't do wrong or go wrong on the path of learning. Play is life-giving, like the air we breathe and the sunlight of day. If we want our schools and teachers to be free enough to do right by our kids, it's time to stand for, and get on the pathway to play.
- Jeff Peyton, Founder
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