This is the first in a series on play.
Play: why it is important, how it develops, and what this means for Joey
Much of what I hope to do with Joey and my work with our adapted readings is to foster his development through play. We learn about our world through play, and this play builds a foundation for our next developmental stages in life. In early childhood, play is often considered essential for creating a strong foundation for both learning and emotional regulation.
When I think about my own three year old and her opportunities for play, I want to bring that constant play to Joey. But how? So much of my daughter’s imagination is from picking up a rock and turning it into a phone “Hang on mommy, I can’t talk to you right now, I’m on the phone”, or from her ability to run, jump, and investigate the world. I don’t want Joey’s physical limitations to cause him to miss out on this explorative nature of childhood, especially sense these experiences are what build developmental foundations.
This desire to expand Joey’s play caused me to start thinking about how we define play, how it develops, what makes it meaningful to a child’s development, and what supports need to be in place for a child to fully engage in play.
The next few weeks will be a series of posts on my own search for answers in the field of play, and why (or even if) it is important to be doing with Joey during this preschool stage of his development.
Defining play itself turned out to not be such an easy task. In his book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, Stuart Brown resists defining play. Instead, he addresses play’s properties as being apparently purposeless (or done for its own sake), voluntary, inherent attraction, provides a sense of a freedom from time and diminished consciousness of self, contains improvisational potential, and a continuation desire (Brown, 2009). These properties refer a lot to choice, highly enjoyable activities that can expand and continue.
The Polyvagal theory defines play as “a neural exercise that enhances the co-regulation of physiological state to promote the neural mechanisms involved in supporting mental and physical health. Interactive play as a neural exercise requires synchronous and reciprocal behaviors between individuals and necessitates an awareness of each other’s social engagement system” (Porges, 2017). Here, play is something we do with someone else, in a reciprocal, engaging pattern.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)’s position statement on best practices states that “Play is an important vehicle for developing self-regulation as well as for promoting language, cognition, and social competence. [Play] gives [children] opportunities to develop physical competence and enjoyment of the outdoors, understand and make sense of their world, interact with others, express and control emotions, develop their symbolic and problem-solving abilities, and practice emerging skills. (NAEYC 2009, 14). Here, play seems to be more of an opportunity to practice life and early academic skills.
None of these make it overly clear what play is, but perhaps that is because it looks so different at so many different stages. I recently attended a presentation by the researchers working on Northeastern’s Project Play, and learned that they broke down types of play into concrete, developmental stages, which shows just how much the act of play itself can vary, as well as how it develops over time.
So what type of play does Joey currently engage in, and how can we help him access more play during this day? What activities can I put into place for him that will have the properties Brown notes about play in his book, and will provide for that neuro-developmental feedback from another person that Porges recommends? How do we find true play for Joey?
Over the next few weeks we will look more closely into why play is important, how it develops, and what this means for children like Joey.
Brown, Stuart & Christopher Vaughan, (2009). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. Avery Publishing, New York. 16-18
Pizzalongo, P & Kyle Snow. A Conversation About Play. Accessed online on 1/25/2018 at https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/books/spotlight-young-children-exploring-play-a-conversation-about-play
Porges, Stephen (2017). The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The transformative power of feeling safe. W.W. Norton & Company. New York, NY. 22.