Play with a Purpose

By: Nick Sidwell MOTR/L Pediatric SIS chair

“Nothing lights up a child’s brain quite like play”- Dr. Stuart Brown

A researcher on play, Dr. Stuart Brown says “…humor, games, roughhousing, flirtation and fantasy are more than just fun. Plenty of play in childhood makes for happy, smart adults — and keeping it up can make us smarter at any age.”

We as pediatric Occupational Therapy professionals can tap into the fountain youth (“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” ~ George Bernard Shaw), We have access to the Limitless drug (NZT-48 from the movie Limitless), and like Dr. Brown said above, we know the secret to true success as described by Warren Beatty when he said “You’ve achieved success in your field when you don’t know whether what you’re doing is work or play.” According to Jane Mcgonigal, another researcher and video game designer, play is also the cure for depression, it is “…an opportunity to focus our energy, with relentless optimism, at something we’re good at (or getting better at) and enjoy. In other words, gameplay is the direct emotional opposite of depression.” Wow! Play does so many things for the children we work with and us as pediatric OT professionals.

We know and understand this and yet we don’t follow our own understanding. For instance, why do we get so focused on “directing” play and “structured” OT sessions in stark clinic rooms, or sitting at a table doing worksheets and tabletop activities in the school systems? Why are we doing things the way we have always done it on therapy- pulling a kid to work in a step-by-step therapy plan and then we get frustrated when it never goes as planned? I would ask, is that true to occupation for these children, is that true play? I hold the position that if the main occupation of children is play, then we need to facilitate true uninhibited, child-lead play as much as possible as pediatric OT professionals. Child-directed play should be our main focus and the main thing we do with each kid we work with.

Consider these quotes about play that I have been gathering in my quest to do Play-based therapy:

“Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, share, negotiate, resolve conflicts, and learn self-advocacy skills.” ~ Winnie Wathu

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

“Play is the absence of stress.” ~ Poole

“Play is the language of children. Have you spoken it to them lately?” ~ Vince Gowmon

“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” ~ Mr. Rogers

“To play with a child is to love a child.” ~ Vince Gowmon

“Play is the beginning of knowledge.” ~ George Dorsey

“Children more than ever, need opportunities to be in their bodies in the world – jumping rope, bicycling, stream hopping, and fort building. It’s this engagement between limbs of the body and bones of the earth where true balance and centeredness emerge.” ~ David Sobel

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.” ~ Carl Jung

“Purposeful play builds self-confidence and real-world problem-solving skills.” ~

Jane McGonigal

“Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.” ~ Abraham Maslow

“Play is training for the unexpected.” ~ Marc Bekoff

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The true object of all human life is play.” ~ G. K. Chesterton

“Do not keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.” ~ Plato

“Play and playful forms of activity potentially lead towards increasingly complex forms of knowledge, skills and understanding.” ~ Elizabeth Wood

“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.” ~ O. Fred Donaldson

“The playing adult steps sideward into another reality; the playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery.” ~ Erik H. Erikson

“Play is the brain’s favourite way of learning” ~ Diane Ackerman

“Necessity may be the mother of invention, but play is certainly the father.” ~ Roger Von Oech

“Children don’t need more things. The best toys a child can have is a parent who gets down on the floor and plays with them.” ~ Anonymous

“If animals play, this is because play is useful in the struggle for survival; because play practices and so perfects the skills needed in adult life.” ~ Susanna Miller

“Play is the royal road to childhood happiness and adult brilliance.” ~ Joseph Chilton Pearce

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” ~ Dale Carnegie

“In our play we reveal what kind of people we are.” ~ Ovid

“When we deny children play, we are denying them the right to understand the world.” ~ Erika & Nicholas Christakis

Play comes in many forms, but it is generally freely chosen, spontaneous, self-directed and fun.” ~ Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card

“Play sharpens our talent for empathy & collaboration…it’s the antidote to social isolation” ~ S. Eberle

“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” ~ Joseph Chilton Pearce

“Play prepares the children of today to be the innovative thought leaders of tomorrow.” ~ Vince Gowmon

“If you trust play, you will not have to control your child’s development as much. Play will raise the child in ways you can never imagine.” ~ Vince Gowmon

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