The Lost Element - Play

by Jeff Hill, CEO of Children's Scrapstore.
It has been my privilege during the last 11 years to be engaged with one of the most incredible and inspiring areas of human behaviour that I can imagine.

I have watched while human beings make amazing and astounding discoveries, experienced breakthroughs in social behaviour, and construct complex and beautiful things from pointless rubbish.

I work in play, supporting children in their development and supporting a sector in its effort to support children. Luckily, I am in a unique position as the services we deliver are of extreme value to our members and the children that we serve.

During my time in this field I have had to learn about play, the critical role that it has in children’s development and the unique and skilful way in which play is professionally delivered to the benefit of everyone.

As an ordinary citizen of this country I watch as various governments come and go and their policies shape the world that we live in. Sometimes a good one arrives, and other times poor ones are generated. Like everybody else I can see the madness in some of these and how some of them are necessary.

To my mind the Key Elements which go to make up a successful society are these:
  • Health
  • Economy
  • Community
  • Environment
  • Spirituality
Within each of these elements is a subset of elements that make up the whole.
Health and Play
If we take health for example, there are so many other titles which could be used to contribute to the understanding of a whole person’s health. They will range from eating, exercising, hygiene through to attitude, work, stress and then onto special circumstances. There is physical health, mental health, emotional health.

It is my observation that as human beings we often comment on the need for relaxation and entertainment to enable health to be achieved. That is not to say that these things are the sole contributor, but rather an underpinning support essential to whatever treatment is being administered or whichever approach for preventative medicine is being undertaken.

So here, I have called these subset elements relaxation and entertainment. These are adult words for play. As you look into each of these Key Elements you will find that play in one form or another offers a positive contribution to the desired outcomes of that element.

Economy and Play
As an example if you look at economy there are countless stories from successful people about how they are being paid to do something they love. The movie awards are very public examples of that but they are not alone.  In many cases successful business people will recount how much they love doing what they do. To my mind this is a person at play.

Because we believe that play is essentially a 'waste of time' we will find it hard to discover a business person who will admit to playing for a living. Yet that element of enjoyment, invention and risk which accompanies successful enterprises is in itself playful and matches exactly the characteristics that we would list in children’s play.

Play is for Life
I am proposing therefore that play is with us throughout our entire lives. That its importance and influence on us is massive and indeed, that it is essential to the development and maturation of healthy human beings.

They say that humour heals, I would add that humour is healthy, yet would we allow ourselves to say that what makes us laugh is what happens when we play?

It is my intention to go through each of these key elements and create a layman’s eye view of how play can and often does, contribute to positive outcomes. I will write a blog for each area which demonstrates the underpinning nature of our need to play and what it brings.

Play; the lost element
For now, this blog is an introduction to a deeper enquiry. I have called it the lost element because for me its importance is suppressed within our society, yet we know as common folklore that this is an essential ingredient in life.

If you speak to almost anyone you will find that they do know that time off and time spent being engaged in interesting things (things which are playful) is good for us and that it helps us to be better people, happy people and healthier people.

I suggest throughout these blogs that for many reasons the suppression of play is historic being born of the necessity to build, conquer and rule empires. A very serious business. It is also natural to understand how the need to replace play as the main activity of a young person by the activity of work which necessitates serious and focused attention, can lead to the labelling of play as inappropriate or non-essential/frivolous behaviour.

That classification or demotion of play is, I suggest, throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Not allowing play to coexist and be recognised is like cutting off one hand and attempting to do the same job with what's left. Now, however, our society has the opportunity to acknowledge elements which in previous generations have been deemed to be unseemly or unacceptable.

Play at work
As an example, would you get told off for playing at work? The answer would undoubtedly be at least some disapproval if not it being a disciplinary issue.

Yet it is readily acknowledged throughout the world that the best things come from people who have invented new exciting solutions or products while they were engaged in doing something they cared about, were immersed in, and quite often were playing with!

Again, being immersed and fully engaged is a recognised condition whilst playing. I am therefore calling this blog post the lost element because I believe we do not recognise readily that play begins at birth and does not end until death. If you are happy and learning until the day you die we are commonly of the opinion that you will have lived a good life. It is natural if not obvious therefore that play which keeps us happy and learning is a key element in every area of life.

Play throughout our lives
It must be recognised at this stage that play evolves as we develop throughout our lives. For example, play when we are young involves a myriad of elements most of which we can see as activity or the resulting product. We must also be aware however that play in all its forms often has no result attached to it.  Experimenting is as natural to play as water is to a fish and so outcomes are not always achievable or even desired.  The process of play has its own value!
 As we grow play is expressed in teenagers via increased social engagement which to a degree, although the expression changes, stays with us throughout our lives. In our mature years play becomes our interests which are for some of us our work as well. The nature of the expression of play at this stage has changed in that it will be evidenced by useful products or perhaps profit generation or even the peak of a hobby being achieved.

Play can also be hidden. Play as outward humour is easy to spot but play as the engagement in an interest and the fulfilment that it brings is not  always an outward expression but can be an inner thoughtful or concentrated process, which incidentally is exactly how it is in children as well.

Below are the things that I believe support our key elements. Again, there are many factors that contribute to each one of these and I will mention some as we go through other blog posts.

Underpinning the Key Elements are:
  • Play
  • Infrastructure
  • Vision
  • Humane values (shared)
  • Collective values (shared personal) economic and spiritual diversification

Play is essential to the key elements of a successful society as it:
  • Enables understanding
  • Creates opportunity for progression
  • Enhances education
  • Enables social cohesion
  • Unlocks creativity in all spheres of human experience
  • Is ever present and possible
  • Enhances life experience, and progresses economy.
Play is not just about children it’s about humans being.

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