Just Playing seeks to highlight the importance of play in children’s learning and development and the role we have as adults – not just carers and educators, but as the proverbial village – to ensure children have the space and resources to play. It was born out of concern for the shrinking of both time and space, allocated to play in children’s lives and the negative impact the early introduction of formal, academic, sedentary activities has on children’s motivation to learn. Another impetus is the phenomenon now called ‘nature deficit disorder’. Children are increasingly spending less and less time in nature and the health implications – physical and mental – of this disconnection from nature are alarming.
Through my work in early childhood development in South Africa I have too often heard the term – ‘just playing’, in a way that diminishes the value of play. Children are never ‘just playing’. There is richness and meaning imbued in their play – it is their work, their learning, their emotional outlet, and we need to start seeing play as a form of education, valuing play for plays’ sake and providing children with the appropriate spaces and resources for play.
Children from all walks of life are facing two things, one I call the ‘economy of fear’ and the second the ‘poverty of the imagination’ (a term borrowed from Paul Gilroy in his response to the London riots, 2011). Both are intertwined in the lives of our children. They face fear (real and imagined) on a daily basis and a lack of imagination on the part of adults to respond to this fear as well as a lack of imagination in education and childcare provision. I lament the situation my children will be born into – unsafe streets vs the perception that the streets are unsafe. Too much computer and TV (selling fear) and not enough time outside connecting with nature and ourselves. Diminishing green and wild spaces. Poorly serviced play areas. Poor transport infrastructure. Too many extra-curriculars and not enough time to just be, and the rise of an irrational, risk averse, litigious health and safety culture etc etc.
Essentially… too much fear, not enough imagination > > > IMAGINE A NATION FEARLESS
We desperately need to be nurturing creative, innovative, socially aware risk-takers to deal with our development challenges and the rapid rate of change we are experiencing. Our education system is failing because we are using old methods to educate children for a future we do not yet comprehend. These are methods that do not acknowledge multiple intelligences and that basically bore children who are totally overstimulated by media and technology. We need a major paradigm shift (see Ken Robinson’s RSA lecture) and alternative solutions.
This site hopes to bring together possible antidotes to the ‘economy of fear’ and the ‘poverty of imagination’. I hope to share local and international commentary, research and case studies of best practice on these topics; explore how these ideas relate to our local context in order to find home-grown solutions to:
- expand children’s access to play + early learning services
- improve the quality of play + early learning services
- mainstream the provision of fun, safe and stimulating play + learning spaces
I invite you to share your thoughts, ideas and any links and references on these topics and hope we can find ways to turn this talk into action!