Monday, May 16, 2011

Guest Blog: Part four Play the Key to Creativity

We welcome Amanda Morgan, from Not Just Cute, back for our final part to our Creativity Series. We hope you have enjoyed this series as much as we have! Look to the bottom of this article for a special on the Ebook, Parenting with Positive Guidance.

Play: The Key to Creativity

It has been said that play is a child’s work. While play has been around since the dawn of time, the science of play is relatively new. What some may consider to be only a frivolous pastime for children has, over the last century, been uncovered as a powerful tool for learning, a key to creativity and innovation, and, some would argue, a biological necessity akin to sleep.

Researchers, like Dr. Stuart Brown of the National Institute for Play, assert that play is more than just good fun, and even more than a way to practice and imitate skills for the future. Play, they submit, is a necessary component to healthy human development. It helps build emotional regulation, appropriate risk-taking behaviors, abstract thinking, curiosity, and resiliency. Incorporating neuroscience, they have found that play “lights up the brain” and builds intelligence in a truly unique way.

And yet, while the science of play is gaining ground, the actual occurrence of play seems to be diminishing in our culture.

As this article in the New York Times stated, “The average 3 year-old can pick up an iPhone and expertly scroll through the menu of apps, but how many 7 year-olds can organize a kickball game with the neighborhood kids?”

The Nuts and Bolts of Play

Play comes in many forms. It may be the toddler pulling pans from the kitchen cupboard, the preschoolers dressing up and holding a royal ball, or a passel of friends racing down the sidewalk. The one common component of play is that it is enjoyable and intrinsically driven.

Back in the early thirties, researcher Mildred Parten outlined six stages of social play, ranging from unoccupied play and onlooker play on to full cooperative play. This theory recognized play as something that could take on many different social forms. While a group of children playing together is easily recognizable, a child simply watching another is also a form of play. More recently, the National Institute for Play has outlined seven patterns or types of play including movement and object play as well as the less obvious types such as the emotional interactions constituting attunement play.

One aspect of play that has even Corporate America paying attention, is its ability to unlock creativity and innovation. In his TED presentation, Tim Brown, CEO of design firm, IDEO points out the firm’s “back to preschool” climate to encourage innovation. Other businesses like movie-maker Pixar, and dominating internet presence, Google, also encourage playfulness and exploration in their corporate culture as a way to spark ingenuity. The Stanford Institute of Design even offers a course entitled, From Play to Innovation, where participants study the development of play and its behaviors and apply those elements in innovative corporate design.

What innovative entities are beginning to recognize is that a culture of playfulness engenders divergent thinking, problem-solving, and the ability to create “something from nothing”. People who are good “players” tend to be more creative, resourceful, and in many instances, it helps people do their jobs better and enjoy them more when there is an element of play.

By nature, children seem to be good players. They immediately ask, “What is that and what else can I do with it?”, they see new perspectives through role-play, and effortlessly engage others in a common cause (whether that’s building a fort, storming a castle, or a good old-fashioned game of Red Rover).

So how can child’s play be in danger?

What comes so easily by nature can easily be lost to a lack of nurture. Some blame the emphasis on academic achievement which, while the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive, appears to be pushing play from preschools and recess from school schedules. Others cite the fast pace of American culture, moving adults and children alike from one scheduled event to the next.

Personalities also play a role as some parents and teachers may be more or less comfortable with relinquishing control and allowing children room to play. Play can be chaotic and messy. It’s often much easier, faster, and cleaner to turn to technology and flip on the TV or start up a video game.

But when children are allowed to be bored, they learn to take initiative, show leadership, organize, and problem solve as they decide how, with what, and with whom they will play. They think outside of the box and create something to do when it seems there is nothing.

And, Dr. Stuart Brown contends, play is not just for children. Humans are biologically designed to play --- for a lifetime. Benefits extend into adulthood and include mental flexibility, stress release, and just plain happiness.

So find time for you and your children to play --- together and on your own. We can all reap the benefits!

Additional Resources:

The National Institute for Play

Want to Get Your Kids Into College? Let Them Play
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Stuart Brown Says Play is More than Fun {TED Talks}

Effort To Restore Children’s Play Gains Momentum {New York Times}

Tim Brown on Creativity and Play {TED Talks}

Top photo by D. Sharon Pruitt.

Amanda is offering our patients a discount on her Ebook just use "CREEK" for $1 off the ebook, good through the 22nd.

Amanda Morgan is a full time mom to three busy boys, a part-time trainer and consultant for a non-profit children's organization and author of the ebook, Parenting with Positive Guidance, available here. She also writes at Not Just Cute, a blog full of ideas that are more than just cute, for children who are much more than cute too. We thank her for being our first Guest Post and for giving us so much information on how to keep our kids being Creative! Please continue to follow her blog and watch for more of her Guest post in the future! Thanks Amanda!

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