Blog: The Light of Aurora
Let Us Play!00:00 AM - June 17, 2021
When was the last time you played?
Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, gave a picture of human beings as having three distinct yet interconnected aspects: thinking (brain), feeling (heart), and doing (limbs). While each of these parts functions differently, there is a fluidity that sometimes brings them more into alignment and sometimes less.
When we are engaged with something that fully interests and excites us, we can say that our thinking, feeling, and doing work together harmoniously. Though there are many ways that we can find this alignment. Judy Frizlen, founder of the Rose Garden Early Childhood Center in Buffalo, NY, in her Lifeways course, “Becoming Champions of Play,” points out that one way is through spontaneous play. She said that “Whenever we are engaged in true play, we are aligned in our thinking, feeling, and doing.”
What is true play? True play is self-directed, spontaneous, and imaginative. We are inwardly active when we are playing. We are creating from the inside out and engaging with the world from deep inside ourselves. We are in the present moment.
When we do one thing but think about something else, we can say that we are not “all in” that our thinking, feeling, and doing are not aligned. At these times, we are prone to make mistakes, feel frazzled, or become easily annoyed.
We know well enough from personal experience that we feel worn down from too much multitasking or doing something out of obligation rather than inspiration. We feel vibrant and enthused when we are doing (limbs) something that we know (brain) is important, and we feel (heart) good doing it. Play feels good!
Thinking: Play and Brain Development
Up until the age of seven, the right hemisphere of the brain is rapidly and predominantly developing. The right side of the brain seeks the big picture, the relationship between things. The right hemisphere helps us with creative problem solving, looking outside the box, and imaginative thinking. Providing children with plenty of time for free play in early childhood is one of the best ways to capitalize on the incredible capacities of the right brain.
Through play, children transform the world in extraordinary ways. Watch children of this age when they are engaged in play, and you will see this for yourself. A stick is a horse, is a fishing pole, is a sword, is any number of things a child imagines. The ability of a young child's brain to think imaginatively is richer than it will be for the rest of their life.
Feeling: Play and Social/Emotional Intelligence
At play, a child experiences the freedoms that come with self-direction. Play is a wonderful way for children to process difficult, painful, and confusing emotions.
Children learn that certain boundaries are needed to play. Sticks need to be carefully handled so that friends don't get hurt. “I won’t swing my stick in the air, but I will use it to dig a hole.” While deep in play, an inner dialogue such as this begins to emerge. This process is the foundation for high executive brain functioning in later life.
Doing: Play and Skill Building
Play can be centered around the mastery of skills. Tossing a ball, jumping rope, running, climbing, balancing on a log, etc. These all involve trial and error until the body has integrated the skill and the child feels the satisfaction of mastery.
Much of later academic success depends upon a balanced integration of fundamental movement skills. Cross-lateral activities, such as crawling, skipping, or climbing, prepare neural pathways for higher-level thinking. Free movement, and lots of it, is essential for healthy physical, emotional, and cognitive development.
How frequently do we observe our children deeply engaged in self-directed play?
Children receive myriad benefits when they are fully engaged in self-directed activities. They are focused. They are engaged. They are motivated. They are imaginative. They are physically and mentally active. Play is food for the soul in that it aligns with the threefold nature of the child.
So what is required to provide this soul nourishment for our children? Time.
Children need unstructured and uninterrupted time to play. They need windows of time to move (through the doorway of boredom) into self-directed activity. They need the hurry of modern life to slow down.
It can be challenging to create time in our lives for doing nothing, for just being. But when we do, we allow our children the time they need to find their own being in that stillness. The effort involved in carving out time for play is well worth it.
And, who knows? While they play, we might find that we have time to play too!
Sarah Battles Franklin, Parent Tot and Grades teacher at Aurora Waldorf School. M. Ed. Sunbridge College, B.S. Elementary Education SUNY Geneseo. Graduate of Green Meadow Waldorf School.
Becoming Champions of Play, a Lifeways course with Judy Frizlen, May 2021
Frommer, Eva A., Voyage Through Childhood Into the Adult World, Pergamon Press LTD, 1969
Tunkey, Jeff, Educating for Balance and Resilience, Bell Pond Books, Hudson New York, 2020