As remote learning and working stress rises week on week, it’s important to focus on relationships and mental wellbeing. The protracted time in being removed from our normal settings is impacting everyone, and if we are to get through this, we need to take time for play.
Research by education experts, scientists, psychologists and even archaeologists emphatically shows that play is intrinsically linked to the social, intellectual, and physical development of humans, and this has been the case throughout history. It is through play that children learn to grasp objects for the first time and develop their fine motor skills. As they grow, children explore their environments, whether these environments be parks or beaches… or the confines of their lockdown home and accompanying digital world. We could not develop abstract thought or understand our rich, symbolic world of language without first developing our capacity for imagination. Education is at its best when students are open to the world of curiosity and experimentation that is the very basis of all knowledge and innovation.
Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength, and it is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. Through play, children learn about the give and take of relationships with friends (negotiating), how their behaviour can affect others and to develop empathy and how to lead and follow. While play is crucial for a child’s development, it is also valuable for people of all ages. We all know that play can add happiness to life, relieve stress, amplify learning, and connect you to others and the world around you. Play can also make work more productive and pleasurable. To this end I have asked all our educators to consider weaving play into the learning of all Grammarians.
Dr Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish educator, author and most recently Deputy Director of UNSW’s Gonski Institute for Education reminds us of the value of play. Sahlberg states:
“At desks and on dining tables in thousands of homes now across the country, children are trying to learn to read and add, or analyse Hamlet and pick apart advanced calculus, again without the in-person direction of their teachers or the companionship of their peers. As lockdowns and school closures return and extend for many children, there is an undercurrent of anxiety for young people of all ages. One of the things that parents, and adults can do, is to go and play with them [children].” 21/08/2021
Sahlberg says that it is the non-academic factors in children’s lives that have more impact on later success and there are “much more important powerful things that explain children’s success and future are often not the academic skills, and those are exactly the things that children can learn outside the school,” he says. Play is one of these. And it is good for all of us! Read this article to find out more.
Play has been shown to release endorphins, improve brain functionality, and stimulate creativity. It is beneficial for children to have the opportunity to play with the whole family, including grandparents and sometimes this is when family traditions and shared memories are created. I still fondly remember my father teaching me the game of chess and our family playing Monopoly on camping trips. When children and young adults have lots of contact or play with adults, they display higher levels of language development and problem-solving skills.
We also know that children often take their lead from adults, and so it is important that we change the narrative of what we are experiencing. The Alpha (12 years and under) and ‘Z’ (13- 24 years) generations who are living through this pandemic are learning compassion, empathy, and kindness. Scottish author and poet, Donna Ashworth in her poem titled, In twenty years’, time, asks us to change the story for our children.
In twenty years’, time – Donna Ashworth
People will not ask the children of 2020/21 if they caught up with their studies.
They will not ask them what grades they made, despite the year off school.
They will ask them with wonder ‘what was it like?’
They will ask them ‘how did you cope?’
‘How did you feel?’
‘What do you remember of those days?’
They will listen in awe to the tales of clapping on doorsteps for the medical workers.
They will sit open-mouthed to hear of daily walks being the only life we saw and how much we missed human contact and gatherings.
They will be amazed to know about empty supermarkets, online concerts, birthdays spent on a screen and a life lived inside.
They will listen, then sit back with amazement and say, ‘Wow. You went through so much.’
So, think about what you would like your children to take away from this whole year.
Tell them they are not behind.
Tell them they are not missing out.
Tell them they are extremely special indeed and they will be forever made stronger by this unique time.
Tell them catching up is not even a thing because they have grown so much in so many other ways.
Remind them too of the fun stuff, the family jigsaws, the window rainbows, the zoom bingo.
The feeling of safety and togetherness amidst the chaos.
Let them take that thought with them through life.
Change the narrative now and it will travel far.
Tell the children they are not behind.
They are special.
I am constantly amazed by the resilience and courage of our Grammarians. I attended the Middle Years Assembly focussing on Integrity on Friday 20 August. It was totally student led and run by the Year 8 SWAT team. I left uplifted and confident that our world is in good hands. There was an equal display of serious comments and fun, however, what stood out most, was that it was ‘playful’.
In closing, think about retrieving some of those board games from the attic, find the playing cards, go on a bike ride and perhaps shoot some hoops or kick the footy with your daughter. This is powerful learning too!
Take care, be safe, stay well!
Yours in learning
Dr Toni E. Meath