Children are Wired to Play!

Children are biologically wired to play. Play is very serious business for them. Maggie Dent (Australian educator and author) 

I vividly remember my own childhood as I grew up in a coastal town in Western Australia. Sun, surf, fishing, diving, cubby houses, sand pits and my trusty BMX bike! Time over recent months spent close to home has likely given our boys and girls many opportunities to play.  As Maggie Dent states, they are wired to play, no matter what their age. 

Play is…

  • A Year 1 girl designing and building a Lego tower to act out the rhyme ‘Jack be nimble’
  • A Year 7 boy trying different ways to solve a visual puzzle
  • A Year 10 student playing rugby at lunchtime
  • Students from different grades joining together to play basketball on the courts, making up rules as they go along without the involvement of an adult
  • A Humanities class taking on roles as members of the Australian Government and demonstrating arguing a Bill in their Democracy unit
  • A group of Year 3 students being gently guided by their teacher to play a maths number game
  • A group of Prep students taking on the role of archaeologists to dig for hidden artefacts in the sandpit
  • A teacher singing a reworked version of her favourite rock ballad to spark class interest in a Maths concept
  • A teenage boy pulling apart the engine of a broken-down dirt bike to see how it works and how it can be put back together
  • A Year 5 girl completely engrossed in a ‘passion project’ during a time of independent discovery

I’m sure that there are many other examples of play that you’ve observed in your children, inside and outside of the home. These will sit closely alongside the many types of play we observe here at school in our indoor and outdoor learning spaces.

Play is more than just ‘free play’. It is a purposeful form of learning that is intrinsically motivated and sees children and young people actively engaged in discovery. Play can be self-guided by the child or scaffolded by a supportive adult. Whether structured or unstructured, indoors or outdoors, playful experiences foster creativity, curiosity and imagination. Play can be silent and solitary or loud and interactive. It can be messy, and it can be joyful.

In a recent book I have read, Let the Children Play, renowned Finnish Educator Pasi Sahlberg and academic William Doyle dedicate an entire chapter to the learning power of play. They describe the importance of play to healthy brain development, as well as development of imagination, dexterity and physical, cognitive and emotional strength. Play is how our children, from an early age, learn to interact with the world around them.

Play, at any age, provides children with opportunities to explore the world in their own terms. It nurtures self-esteem and self-regulation, whilst developing problem-solving skills, an understanding of social rules when interacting with others and enhancing cognitive understanding. Physical play can build strength, coordination and fitness, as well as a sense of accomplishment when skills and challenges are mastered.

Play is not a luxury but rather a crucial dynamic of healthy physical, intellectual and social-emotional development at all age levels. David Elkind (American child psychologist) 

It is important that we prioritise time for play for our boys and girls to allow them to be thinkers, innovators and collaborators. Play does not replace formal learning – it is learning. As the title of the book suggests…. ‘let the children play’! 

At A.B. Paterson College we have outstanding ovals and playground areas. All children are able to utilise their playtimes in these areas. A wonderful example is the Village Green which is in front of The Winton Centre and was previously known as the Hockey Oval. This is a wonderful space for the Years 1 and 2 students to play in each break time. As supported by many recent research articles, play is very important, no matter what your age! 

Simon Edgar - Head of Junior School