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PLAY! by Fafu

Issue #01 | September 2012




What is Play?


The Brain Needs to Play


Is Modern Play Too Restrictive?


Taking Play Seriously


We Are All Children:


3 Ways to Engage Your Practitioners in Play


What is Play? Play has many different definitions for different people. It is important for parents and Early Years practitioners to understand the meaning and power of play so that they can ignite it and support it with the right environment and opportunities needed for evolved and open ended play.   The dictionary’s version is “To engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose”. Even though this description gives us an idea on what play is, it fails to describe the real power of play. Play does not only exist around activities but as an overall approach to learning. It enables children to explore and experiment with simple concepts that will influence their way of thinking and understanding for life. Play also offers an environment for learning where there is no right or wrong answer, which is vital for all higher-order thinking.

Play is not an activity you can provide in a schedule - it is the centre of our ability to learn and should be treated more seriously. Literacy is, for example, an ability acquired through play - not by avoiding it. It is based on children’s vocabulary and their sense of language. We can support those abilities by reading with children, by playing word or storytelling games, and by connecting their reality to words and letters. The same goes for numeracy and any human ability. If we can’t explore, experiment, and play with ideas and concepts in a free and purposeless manner, we struggle with understanding it fully. We need to abandon the idea that remembering facts is the same as acquiring knowledge or understanding. Education is about developing abilities, characters and communities that can continue to evolve our society and make it better. People that can gather knowledge understand it and create more of it! So what are you waiting for? Let’s play!! 3


The Brain Needs to Play Early education is probably the most important level of education. It is the time in children‘s lives where they start building peer relationships and the foundation for the people they will become. It is also a vital time for brain development. The development of our brain structure is based on two main factors; experience shapes the properties of our neurons (experience dependent plasticity) and there are distinct time windows during early development that shape brain function. This means that while children play they are also organising their way of thought and how they acquire information and store it. They organise information based on the sensory stimulation that is associated with it and not the content of the information. The brain will then build systems of knowledge (neural networks) connecting together related information and enabling children to recall facts, evaluate circumstances, and solve problems.   4

There is a growing movement of people supporting and enabling children to play more every day. To become one of these people you can log on to Play England and become a member and check out the upcoming documentary Seriously! A Movie About Play by Gwen Gordon.


Want to learn more? These two books are a good start: 路 How Your Child Learns Best by Dr. Judy Willis 路 Building Brains: An Introduction to Neural Development by David Price, Andrew P. Jarman, John O. Mason, and Peter C. Kind

The brain is designed to form memories as a survival strategy so that it can understand and predict an outcome of a possibly fatal situation. When threatened, the brain shifts into reactive mode and treats information as a short term resource for survival. But when children are relaxed and enjoy learning, the brain will reflect on the information and a real learning opportunity occurs. This is why we all struggle with learning things that bore us. The brain reacts to boredom in the same way it reacts to stress and anxiety and fails to reflect on the information and store it long term. We need to engage children in a variety of sensory stimulation and offer them opportunities to explore, imagine, and create. 5

Want read m


Is Modern Play Too Restrictive? The advantages of play based learning are far greater than we may have anticipated when our society started to develop a fear of children playing in a manner that often results in a scrambled knee or a broken bone. The phrase “risky play” has become more and more popular and describes limitless play where children can explore opportunities that have become less and less available to children as our society modernises. That includes climbing trees, fences, and dens, playing outside in bad weather, or children exploring their neighbourhoods on their own. All of these activities and many others categorised as “risky play” offer vital support for emotional development. 6

Check out Play and Children’s an Evolutionar The Anti-Pho Thrilling Exper Beate Hansen Leif Edward Ot

A study by Play England found that half of all children have been stopped from climbing trees, 21 per cent have been banned from playing conkers and 17 per cent have been told they cannot take part in games of tag or chase. Some parents are going to such extreme lengths to protect their children from danger that they even said no to hide-and-seek. So what are the consequences of adults managing the risk of children‘s play? According to a study conducted by Norwegian scientists, children develop fears of certain stimuli, e.g. heights and strangers that protect them from situations they are not mature enough to cope with. Risky play is a set of motivated behaviours that both provide the

to more?

England’s Study Risky Play from ry Perspective: obic Effects of riences by Ellen Sandseter and ttesen Kennair.

child with an exhilarating positive emotion and expose the child to the stimuli they previously have feared. As the child‘s coping skills improve, these situations and stimuli may be mastered and no longer feared. Thus, fear caused by maturational and age relevant natural inhibition is reduced as the child experiences a motivating and thrilling activation while learning to master age adequate challenges. It is concluded that risky play may have evolved due to this anti-phobic effect in normal child development, and it is suggested that we may observe an increased neuroticism or psychopathology in society if children are hindered from partaking in age adequate risky play.

Offering opportunities for “risky play” will enable children to develop their own ability to manage and understand risk, making them stronger and more confident people.


See Tom’s video interview here!

Taking Play Seriously There are a lot of serious play supporters in the UK. Nurseries and preschools are filled with children and practitioners exploring free play in- and outdoors. It is quite magical! We have had the honour and joy of visiting almost all of the nurseries run by Child First and experiencing first-hand the magic of child centred learning. Child First was founded by the Early Years veteran Tom Shea. What inspires us the most about Tom and his team is their tireless effort to always do a little bit better for children and provide an inspiring environment filled with real opportunities and respect for the individual child. Even though play seems to be purposeless to many adults, Tom believes it to be vital for all children 8


and adults to develop and enjoy a fulfilling life. He emphasises the importance of choice in play because play without choice is no play at all. „As soon as you tell a child to go play, they stop playing. They have to choose to do it for themselves. It adds value to the person and is not something that has a definitive beginning or end. It is very important that we as adults understand that play is a choice for children, and indeed for ourselves. Not something we can tell them to

do for 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon.“ Child first uses a system called Owned Choice that has an emphasis on open ended resources, free flow play, and a lot of outdoor play no matter what the weather. „Play is something done in all weathers. There is no such thing as bad weather. Just the wrong clothes and the wrong outlook on using them.“



What are our thoughts on play? Send us your view to and we will publish it in our next issue!

We Are All Children: 3 Ways to Engage Your Practitioners in Play Engaging practitioners and nurturing their inner child is a great way to build a play based culture in your nursery. Using silly open ended resources offers an opportunity to enjoy being child-like and see the world through children‘s perspectives. Adults are driven by the same desire to enjoy their work and build valuable relationships and using play based learning will offer opportunities for that in your setting. Here are 3 ideas that could help engage your Early Years practitioners in play. • Offer similar resources to adults as you would offer children. Giving out 10


more paperwork during training day will just drain people’s energy. Give them crayons, clay, costumes, and outdoor activities and plenty of space for creativity! • Introduce choice driven activities and encourage practitioners to pursue their passion in the setting. Adults are like children, a group of people with different abilities. Enable your practitioners to shine and develop their own learning opportunities for the children.

• Build a knowledgeable team that enjoys sharing experiences and knowledge with each other on important aspects of Early Years education. You can do that by offering individual practitioners within your setting to lead training days and come up with topics they find interesting. FAFU offers workshops on a regular basis both on introducing our play costumes as well as doing more detailed work with play therapists. If you want more information about the next work shop in your area call us at 020 3603 3857 or email us at 11

Open ended play costumes tel. 20 3603 3857 | |

fair fun


PLAY! is an online magazine that addressed the issues of early years education through play.