“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing” said George Bernard Shaw. The importance of play as an effective learning tool can never be underestimated. I fondly recall how play was integrated with learning in schools during my formative periods of learning. The formats and types of play varied even though we had no technological or electronic tools then. From intellectual quizzes, problem solving riddles, business plays and those developed focus, concentration, peer learning and social consciousness, the universe and the spectrum of plays varied. One wonders whether we have made both plays as well as learning a serious business now. The achievement syndromes, parental expectations, the focus on quantum of learning than the power of learning, the multiplicity of content with defined learning outcomes and the mythical urge to position the learners on a predefined learning curve have all possibly stolen the joy in play and learning. Further, the technological interventions reengining the process and concept of play has modified the development of several faculties of learning, development and growth among the children, though there is a strong claim to the converse of it. There is no denial of the fact that the current play formats have ushered in speed, thrill, aggression, concept of inbuilt violence, immediacy of purpose, sense of winning as a goal and negation of defeat as a part of struggles.
The recent document of the Government of India for the formative stage of learning (ECCE) puts adequate focus on the importance of play in learning at this stage. “This playfulness with materials, ideas, thoughts, and feelings helps in developing children’s creativity, flexible thinking, and problem-solving abilities, and enhances their concentration, attention, and perseverance. Children improve their thinking, vocabulary, imagination, speaking, and listening skills through play, whether they are reconstructing real situations or creating imaginary worlds” says the document.
Says a UNESCO document “Many countries have curricular standards, yet they seldom include play-based learning activities and teaching methods. For example, a review of Early Learning and Development Standards of countries conducted by UNICEF revealed that only in one third of the standards, the concept of playful learning was well integrated. Furthermore, ‘play competencies’ are unlikely to be part of stated desired outcomes for children’s development” says the UNICEF document.”
“Play is the work of the child,” said Maria Montessori. Play caters to and satisfies the multiple intellectual, emotional, social and cognitive needs of the growing child. It is a trigger to their curiosity and search for the unknown. It is an engagement tool with the known and develops not only the kinesthetic competencies but facilitates integration of several brain faculties and is a seed to the synesthesia.
Some of the major challenges to integration of play in learning processes in schools:
Parental understanding and focus on learning
Many parents believe that learning relates to a dialogue with the printed textual content and learning certain specific language and numeracy competencies which can be measured, reported and celebrated on a common yardstick that can be celebrated as a competitive achievement. Play is considered as an exclusive activity unrelated to curricular learning and possibly even as a waste of time in a real time classroom situation. It is also felt that play does not address to individual upliftment which they expect for their own wards in preference to the cohort. In this process the childhood of the child is rejected, negated and there is an indirect thrust in premature behaviour
Teachers’ pedagogical inadequacies for inclusion of play in learning
Play, as a tool of learning has not been included in the curricular approaches to teacher education effectively. Passing references without any pragmatic approaches to dealing with play in a classroom situation leaves them with more questions than answers. Given the directive to fulfil the achievement targets of the learners, teachers tend to provide a uniform standardized pedagogy to the learners even in the pre-primary classes least understanding the need for play as a tool that increases their comfort levels of learning both intellectually and emotionally. The play releases the learners from several inhibitions that is latent due to socio-cultural contexts, absence of equity, emotional trauma and psychological imperfections that is present due to one reason or the other. It is a meaningful expression of suppressed energies and emotions.
What do brain sciences say about play?
The impact of play on brain development has been researched for long with very impactful results. The role of play not only for physical development but as an instrument for cognitive development has been identified. It appears necessary that several models and formats of play need to be integrated to develop brain faculties so that a holistic and balanced development could happen in children.
The UNICEF document on the importance of play in learning at the formative stage records” Play causes changes in the Prefrontal Cortex that help wire the brain's executive control system, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans, solving problems, and supporting whole brain integration”
The impact of play on the hormones is yet another tale to tell. The research has a lot of evidence to record
Researchers have found that the state of play helps to produce all four of these powerful feel-good hormones – endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. It's no wonder, then, that play can produce so many positive mental health effects”
Researchers further raise the question “Does play release endorphins?” And their findings are
“Play is fun and can trigger the release of endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain. Improve brain function.”
What does NCF 2002 has to say?
The NCF 2022 for ECCE thankfully explains several approaches to the inclusion and integration of play in the pedagogy, which schools need to absorb and follow. It has detailed several ways of inclusion of play in all aspects and dimensions of learning. As such it has explained the broader meaning and compass of play in curricular transactions and pedagogical deliveries. Schools need to take note of them.
“Children at play are not playing about. Their games should be seen as their most serious-minded activity.” Says Michel de Montaigne
According to Whitman, “in a social context, play is important. At this stage, children will begin to develop relationships, build trust and establish long-term bonds. Play will enhance the imagination by allowing children to be creative and engage in pretend play. It also improves communication skills for children The word and develops language skills while playing “.
The words of Plato are worth contemplating: ““Do not keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.”