- Support Sunflower
The Amazing Benefits of Child-Directed Play from Pop-Up Adventure Play
Facts on Play from KaBOOM!
Growth and Development: Child-Directed Play from Seattle Children’s Hospital
The Adult Role in Child-Led Play from Nature Play
Taking Play Seriously The New York Times article, Jan. 29, 2018
Knowing about the importance of play is one thing. Taking action can feel much harder, but speaking up for play may be easier than you think. Sunflower’s Remember Play Challenge is seven concrete steps families can take to bring more play into their lives and the lives of children. (Happy news: nearly all of the steps involve taking time to PLAY!)
Play is a basic human need – as vital to children’s growth as food, water and sleep – but children today are increasingly faced with barriers to meeting this need. Screens, structured activities organized by adults and incessant marketing and commercialism (not to mention early academics) interfere with the time and space children require to go deep into play.
The good news: you can be a play advocate, starting with yourself and the children in your life. Are you ready for the challenge? Let’s go!
What is play?
For such a universal and essential activity, play can be difficult to define. Playworkers and theorists describe play as “a set of behaviors that are freely chosen, personally directed, and intrinsically motivated”(*). Another good definition, from the play advocates at Pop-Up Adventure Play: “Play is only real play when children are able to follow their own inclinations at their own pace, for their own reasons”(*).
Play is a process, not a product. It’s about freedom (often from adult agendas and schedules). And choices – always the player’s choices. Real, deep play requires time and space. Academic definitions aside, it comes down to this: Play is like love – you know it when you feel it.
That’s why step one in the challenge is to Remember Play.
“Trying to define play is like trying to define love. You can’t do it. It’s too big for that.” –Gordon Sturrock, playworker
Something as simple as remembering how you played as a child can help deepen your understanding of play’s essential role in human life, and the immense value play has in the lives of children today.
For this step, make three lists:
BONUS: Share your play memories with your children and with other adults. Ask them for theirs. Talking openly about play and its benefits, even on a personal level, helps create a culture where play is valued.
“Play engages all our senses and gives us courage to be human again.” –Joan Almon, founding director, Alliance for Childhood
Take those lists you made in part 1 and go play! Play with your children; play with other adults. Choose your favorite activities from childhood and introduce them to your kids.
Consider this: play is important at all stages of life. Feeling the urge to dive back into some forgotten passions of your own? Now’s the time! Or ask yourself: what’s a new way that you, as an adult, can play?
“It sometimes takes a good 45 minutes before children get into ‘deep play,’ This is the sort of play where children start creating their own games and their own rules.” –Angela Hanscom, pediatric occupational therapist, founder of TimberNook
Soccer practice, art class, playdate outings – the lives of children today (especially school-age children) can quickly fill up with structured activities organized by adults, leaving no time for deep play. We get it, life is busy! So go ahead and schedule that playdate, but once your children are together with their friends, step back and give them lots of time and space to play. Don’t plan activities. Don’t try to entertain them. Whatever you do, don’t step in to “save” them from boredom.
If you have younger children who require supervision, simply observe your children as they play. Don’t interfere (unless you need to for safety reasons). You might be amazed by what happens.
Remember your favorite play activities from step 1? We bet there weren’t any adults around when you were doing your favorite thing! Think about this and, in age-appropriate ways, give children their freedom.
“Always Be LOOKING (notice the ground beneath your feet.) …Creativity arises from our ability to see things from many different angles.” ―Keri Smith, author of “How to Be an Explorer of the World”
Get outside today! Explore with your children – in your neighborhood, your backyard, a park, a natural area or a city block. Don’t set an agenda. Observe your children and see what they discover and how they engage and play with the world.
It may take twice as long to get to your destination. In fact, you may never actually arrive at your destination. That’s okay. For today, enjoy the journey.
Off the beaten path: Parks and natural areas are wonderful places for adventure. Parks often have paths, and our tendency may be to follow them, but don’t forget to explore the “rough edges” too – the little pockets of nature that exist alongside the human built landscape – that’s where real treasures lie.
“The greatest gift we can give to [children] and their families is to create… spaces… that provide alternatives to commercial culture – places where creativity is nurtured rather than stifled, where we provide children opportunities to explore themselves and the world, and give them a chance to learn to value their own creations above the things that corporations sell.” –Susan Linn, co-founder and director, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
This probably comes as no surprise: your children have too many toys. Your challenge today is to go through and take stock of all your child’s toys. With your child’s help, select at least five toys to donate to a local charity. Let your child choose so that the giving comes directly from them. Expect them to make some last-minute changes and not be able to give up a beloved toy or two after all.
Buying better toys: Children are more creative, and less distracted, when they have less toys to play with(*). The best toys are “90% child and only 10% toy” (*). (And they typically do not have screens or marketing tie-ins.) Choose open-ended toys and materials, and toys that require imagination to make them work. Art/creative and building supplies are always good choices.
“The single social factor that I believe, if changed, will lead to more children’s free play is the attractiveness of their neighborhood.” –Mike Lanza, author of “Playborhood”
In order to create a culture of play, play MUST be done out in the open. For this challenge, no more hiding! Move your play to the front yard or a central space in your neighborhood. Offer invitations that neighbors can join in, like sidewalk chalk, bubbles or “loose parts” (cardboard boxes, sand, water, objects from nature like shells/rocks/bark and art materials like paint/play dough all fit the bill).
BONUS: Is nobody out playing? Knock on neighbors’ doors and ask them to play. Some neighborhoods have even gotten together and closed off a street for a day of play. Think about this: How can you work together with your neighbors to make your neighborhood a more play-friendly place?
“Getting back in touch with that spark of imagination that is only ours gives energy, spurs our own unique creativity, empowers each of us – and who knows what wonders might occur once all that renewed imagination is unleashed.” –Susan Caruso, founder/director, Sunflower Creative Arts
When we all raise our voices together, great things can happen. One simple way to be a play advocate is to support organizations that support play. Volunteering and donations to Sunflower help us empower children to be confident, creative and compassionate through Play, Nature and the Arts – and we are proud to be one of many voices in the play movement. It will take many, many voices to make a lasting change.
Join us! And check out these other organizations that support and advocate for play (over the years, they’ve been some of our most trusted resources): Alliance for Childhood, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Children & Nature Network, KaBOOM!, Pop-Up Adventure Play, and the US Play Coalition.