We don’t have leaf piles or snow piles here in south Florida, but occasionally we have large construction sand piles. Yesterday I drove by one. It was a Saturday so there weren’t any workers around. But there were eight, maybe ten kids climbing up and rolling or sliding down.  It made me smile. Of course they probably shouldn’t have been there.  But they were kids, and they wanted to play.

Everyone needs play

Over the last year or so I’ve been astounded at the vast body of research I’ve found supporting our basic human need to play.  Personally, the most influential document I’ve come across is from the American Academy of Pediatrics and is a widely cited paper entitled, The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. It contains extensive evidence about the value of play, and child-driven play in particular, and encourages all pediatricians to help educate their patients on this topic. There are 21 specific recommendations to pediatricians, including this one right at the beginning, that they  “should recommend that all children are afforded ample, unscheduled, independent, nonscreen time to be creative, to reflect, and to decompress.”

My children were 14 and 12 when this report came out in 2007, so I’ll cut our pediatrician some slack for not talking to me about it, but mostly because he was wonderful in so many ways. Anyone who’s seen Race to Nowhere  knows that 12 and 14-year-olds need to play, too.  The Academy clearly put a lot of resources into producing that paper, but I can’t help but wonder how many pediatricians have made the time to talk to the families they care for about play.  Has your child’s pediatrician talked to you about play?

Just today I found another institution dedicated to play. It’s called The Strong® and it’s “a highly interactive, collections-based educational institution devoted to the study and exploration of play.” Located in Rochester, NY, it houses five “Play Partners” including the National Museum of Play, The Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play® and the American Journal of Play.  The research library contains over 140,000 volumes!

I hadn’t thought to put Rochester at the top of my travel list, but now that I know there are nearly 15,000 dolls housed at the National Museum of Play, I might just be moving up there. (I confess I have always loved dolls and I never minded “cleaning” my daughter Samantha’s room, all by myself, with the door closed.)

On the About Play page of The Strong’s website, you’ll find the following statement:

Everyone needs play. It is essential to learning, creativity, and discovery. It guides physical, intellectual, and social development. It drives innovation, increases productivity, and contributes to healthier lives. Children playing on playgrounds learn to incorporate found objects and put them to novel uses, develop creative pretend and dramatic play scenarios, and build on the ideas of others. Inventors draw on these same skills to make imaginative and unlikely connections that lead to exciting new products or important medical and technical advances.

New research and resources for play advocates like all of us here at Sunflower are emerging all the time. I’ll be watching next fall when a now-in-the-works creative documentary  is released. For now, I follow the creators on Facebook, and give three cheers for their motto: Seriously! The future depends on play.

© Jennifer Ligeti and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2012
Photo © Haidor Truu ad Sunflower Creative Arts, 2012