The State of Play

Our Head of Junior School, Peta Howley, has penned this article about how play is fundamental and essential in our lives, from the earliest years right through adulthood.

In our modern world, opportunities for children to engage in play are increasingly at risk. The allure of screens and the pressure of structured activities and busy schedules have given rise to mounting concerns that, today, children do not have the opportunity to experience the unbridled play that their parents and grandparents once enjoyed.

Play, however, remains a fundamental and multifaceted contributor to children’s development and overall wellbeing. Through play, children encounter not only moments of immense joy but great learning that bolster their cognitive, social, emotional and physical growth.

Moreover, play continues to benefit individuals throughout our lives, even though the nature of play evolves. As adults, we must all embrace the guiding principle of ‘work hard and play hard’.

Given the current ‘state of play’, it is unsurprising that both educators and medical professionals around the world are calling for a renaissance of play. This movement, inspired by the success of the Finnish education system, recognises the profound benefits play offers for children’s holistic development and the promotion of an enduring love of learning.

Play is the highest form of research. — Albert Einstein

Play-based learning is a fundamental element of our Prep program, harnessing children’s innate curiosity and desire to learn through hands-on experiences. The Prep staff facilitate a diverse range of play opportunities by carefully curating and arranging spaces and resources to stimulate and encourage learning. Within our Prep program, play is seamlessly integrated with structured activities to optimise learning outcomes, creating a dynamic and differentiated learning environment for our students.

In Prep, play also serves as a powerful means to foster the Dalton principles—students are empowered to make choices and decisions for themselves, cultivating greater independence. They learn the valuable lesson of taking responsibility for their actions and understanding the subsequent consequences, which promotes not only a sense of agency but accountability.

Collaboration is an integral aspect of play. Playing together, sharing ideas, collectively working towards goals, negotiating and compromising all hone essential teamwork, communication and social skills. Play also offers great opportunities for self-discovery and reflection, encouraging our children to think critically about their experiences, adapt their strategies, and gain deeper insights into themselves, their actions and the world around them.

The adage ‘play is the work of children’ holds true, but its significance transcends early childhood. I will never forget when a Year 5 student told me that she hoped the Fiona lawn would forever remain vast and verdant. Her comments were born out of the realisation that there would be few places she could cartwheel so freely as she grew up. This serves as a powerful reminder not only of the joy that simple, unstructured play brings but also how such options for free play become more limited as children grow.

Amidst the increasing demands of the modern world, it is vital that as adults we also intentionally make both the time and space for play. By striking a balance between it and work, we not only enhance our own wellbeing and productivity but also set a positive example for our children—reinforcing that work and play are not conflicting pursuits but complementary aspects of a successful and fulfilling life.

3 Nov 2023

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