Why play is children’s work
There has been a significant amount of research published outlining the importance of play for children. Philosopher and naturalist Karl Groos published his theories 100 years ago citing that humans learnt and developed their survival skills through play and that youngest humans played more because they had more skills to learn. Play is important for not only physical development but also necessary for the development of language, social skills and intelligence. Play provides the opportunity to make sense of the world around us, the culture in which we live and encourages curiosity and risk taking.
Groos also argued that education is a by-product of play because the triviality of it is the key to success. “Because the child at play is not worrying about his or her future, and because the child at play suffers no real-world consequence for failing–that is, because of play’s triviality–the child at play does not fear failing. Because the child at play is not seeking approval or praise or gold stars or anything else from adult judges, the child at play is unhampered by evaluation concerns. Fear and concerns about evaluation tend to freeze the mind and body into rigid frames, frames that are suited for carrying out well-learned habitual activities but not for learning new actions or thinking about new ideas. In the absence of concern about failure and others’ judgments, children at play can devote all their attention to the skills at which they are playing. They strive to perform well, because performing well is an intrinsic goal of play, but they know that if they fail there will be no serious, real-world consequences, so they feel free to experiment, to take risks in ways that are crucial to learning.”
Connecting children to nature expands their opportunities for play. Not only does the outside environment provide health benefits to physical development, nature provides a bounty of uncontrived spaces to explore, test, negotiate, take risks with and apply imagination to that cannot be achieved in a structured and controlled space.
Throughout history when children were free to play, their first choice often was to flee to the nearest wild place, whether it was a big tree, a bushy area or creek nearby. Researchers suggest that as children become more removed from interacting with nature, the future for the preservation of nature will also diminish. Research is clearly substantiating that an affinity to and love of nature, along with a positive environmental ethic grow out of children’s regular contact with and play in the natural world.