This is my very first post about something I’ve studied. Though I’m very excited about mass communication!
We’re learning about the effects of ‘play’ in Developmental Psychology at the moment. It is no secret that kids seem to be guided less towards play and curiosity and more towards instructed learning and literature these days. However, we did this fascinating study on a phenomenon taking place all over the UK and Europe at the moment. They are centred around a new concept of adventure playgrounds, characterized not by sterile machinery like swings and see-saws but rather obstacles, abandoned objects, art supplies, climbing trees, tools, ladders, and instruments, all spread out over huge fenced landscapes supervised by play-facilitators.
In these places, children are free to run and play wildly to their heart’s content, dreaming up scenes, working together and experimenting with things like small fires, tools, ropes, nets, wheelbarrows, building, cooking and art all under the supervision of play-supervisors. The job of these people is not to stop children from making stupid decisions, but to interact with the kids, assess potential dangers and intervene only if real and urgent harm is imminent. This allows the kids to learn by trial and error, a CRUCIAL luxury I feel we are all too afraid to grant our children these days.
After hearing all about these bizarre and progressive playgrounds, I was very keen to see one. Our teacher played a documentary focusing on one known as The Land, located in Wales. My observations absolutely blew my mind and convinced me we need these in many, many more locations. At first suspicious by the kid’s access to dangers like fire and heights, I was immediately convinced otherwise after watching the way they engaged in The Land.
Firstly, the children seemed SO engaged. They were completely focused and immersed in everything they were doing. This is much unlike the kind of brainless, unstimulated swaying kids do on a swingset. Instead, I could immediately see how much and how quickly kids were learning on the job, busy sawing things, hammering things, building things and cleaning things. Children who chose to spend their time alone, humbly painting for example, were not questioned “What’s wrong?”, but instead given the respect and space to enjoy their time independently.
The objects available to play with in The Land were mostly common household items and discarded toys, giving a sense of realism to play. They were definitely interacting with objects and information that would quickly teach them tricks and understandings they would be taking back to real life. The kids minds were noticeably sharp and open as they engaged and problem-solved to create and destroy things together. There was a real sense of teamwork existing, with groups of 2, 3 or 4 splitting off to adventure and test toys and scenarios of different capacities. Their communication was light-hearted, concise and even strategic as they solved problems together. I couldn’t believe the intelligence I was witnessing from these children who had been playing in The Land for upwards of several years.
All in all, watching the documentary The Land really inspired me to re-think the way kids flourish most when they play. Kids need stimulus that is applicable to real-life. They need variety, they need challenge, and they need failure. They need to be lovingly gifted the responsibility of independence. The imagination I was witnessing whilst watching this video was truly extraordinary, and reminded me of the beautiful curiosity I experienced at that age. Kids are much smarter than we give them credit for, and we need to become okay with placing that trust within them to foster their strongest sense of self-confidence. Places like The Land are wonderful both for the creative and intellectual development of brilliant young minds, and also for parents to relax and accept the discomfort and also amazing potential that comes with having little balls of unbridled energy.
On another note, did you know that conversation, rather than memory of terms and definitions, provides us with stronger evidence of positively shaping the physiology of a developing brain? This is great news, because it is something ANY of us can practice with the children around us, and results are consistent REGARDLESS of socio-economic status. This tells us that families do not require stylish vocabularies in order to raise curious and emotionally intelligent children: just the ability to engage them in conversation.
In the words of Ph.D. student Rachel Romeo, “Don’t just talk TO your child, talk WITH your child”.