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The importance of play in all our lives

Imaginosity was very kindly invited to attend Early Childhood Ireland’s recent conference held in Dublin, where both interesting and important issues surrounding the theme of ‘Today’s Children: Tomorrow’s World’ were discussed.  The conference celebrated, commemorated and concentrated on early childhood.

We were very excited to listen to Dr Stuart Brown M.D as the Conference’s opening Key Note Speaker.  Dr Brown is a medical doctor, psychiatrist and clinical researcher, who is a major proponent of the importance of play. He founded The National Institute for Play in the U.S ,a non-profit  organisation committed to bringing unrealised knowledge, practices and benefits of play into public life through continuing research.

Irene Gunning, Early Childhood Ireland’s CEO (herself a well-known, well-respected, long-time proponent of the importance of play for children), introduced Dr Brown by saying that from the moment she first heard him speak she was mesmerised. By the end of Dr Brown’s talk I understood exactly what she meant! He was engaging, funny, thoroughly informative and bursting with enthusiasm and passion for play.

Dr Brown spoke of how what it takes to be wholly human is so centred in early childhood and how the willingness, desire and motivation to play is embedded in each of us, from the moment that we are born.  He described play as a ‘marvellous phenomenon’ and cautioned that it is not just for kids, but lasts a lifetime.

He described the types of play that humans experience and can remember so well from our own childhoods and that we can now see replicated in our own children or young family members. Dr Brown has spent some time working with National Geographic through print and television programming, and he used a wealth of fantastic, exhilarating photographs in his presentation, which wonderfully described the various types or states of play.  From wolves to polar bears, whales to apes it was easy to see the parallels between what goes on for humans and what happens in nature, where play is concerned.

Dr Brown also focussed on the negative consequences of play deprivation, explaining in startling terms the potentially disastrous and sometimes fatal outcomes resulting from an adult’s actions, following on from a childhood devoid of play. He chillingly spoke of his many years of research work, looking into the play histories of over 6,000 people from different backgrounds. Childhood play shapes our brain, it allows us to be empowered as human beings; to find our place in the world, to learn and understand social etiquettes, boundaries and how to process important emotions and feelings such as empathy, joy, disappointment and trust. A childhood where play was interrupted, stunted or just simply absent, has the potential to produce an adult who is unable to deal with stress, unsure of their place in the world, incapable of exhibiting care and consideration for others and in the extreme, the potential to turn to violence and aggression in certain situations.

Dr Brown’s closing message was that it is really important to honour play in life and for governments and state bodies to recognise the important role of play in childhood. Young and old, we all have a need for play in all stages of our lives.  Play is what makes a life worth living. In closing, he asked us to remember that “ we don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”.