It’s the reason I quit my job at one of the world’s most incredible schools. I loved my job, but I loved it too much. I had no play in my life.
My own playfulness had disappeared. I spent my time cycling through a to-do list that never ended. If something wasn’t ‘urgent’, it went right to the bottom of the list. Worse – it went onto the “I’ll do that one day when all other to-do lists have been exhausted” list.
I had worked at the same school for seven years, each year growing as a professional and spending a lot of time and energy finding ways to make myself a better teacher. I loved what I was doing: working with kids, seeing them grow, finding ways to empower them to challenge themselves. But I had become morosely serious about my job. I had no time for play in my own life, while I wanted to prioritise it in the lives of the children in my care. I was witnessing the impact a lack of play was having on their lives, too.
And in the life of one child in particular – my very own son. While I have always been staunchly protective of his need for and right to free play, I was frivolous with my own. I had become that serious, boring person who only thinks about work and is dreaded at dinner parties (those I had time for!).
So I quit. I gave up my life of early starts, to-do lists, answering emails late into the night, sacrificing my own sanity, trying to be everything to everyone. I left my teaching career so that I could spend more time being the mum and wife I wanted to be. So I could find the playfulness I’d lost. And so I could spend more time focusing on what I truly believe is important.
The word “play” brings forward so many different memories and connotations for people. Everyone has their own long-lasting memories of play gone by, and ideas of what they now see as play. I’ve called myself a play advocate for a while now. So before I took my ideas out into the world, I sat down and nutted out what I believe play is.
Play is an activity you do where the means is more important than the ends; which you are free to enter or leave at any time but by participating you agree to follow rules.
Play is natural and essential to the development of all mammals. As humans, we are the mammals with the most to learn over our lifetimes; hence we have the greatest need to play.
Play is intrinsically motivated. It is something we do for its own sake and rewards.
Play is environmentally based. We use our surroundings and knowledge of the world as both a springboard and backdrop for our play.
Play is essential for our development as humans. It provides a platform for exploring and experimenting with culture-specific knowledge and skills, improves our problem solving abilities and broadens our thinking. It is also how we readjust our balance system during growth.
Play is how we learn to interact with people and the world. Through play we learn to self-regulate or control our emotions and actions.
I believe the phrase ‘learning through play’ has been misused here in Singapore and around our world today. The word ‘play’ really should be the focus of this statement, because learning comes from the play. So much of what we see advertised as ‘learning through play’ is merely adult-directed instruction dressed in primary colours.
I believe that playing outdoors, in nature, is the most important way to develop a child’s senses. The natural world is full of everything we humans could ever need to know. Connections, concepts, skills, growth – these are all things we seek to teach our children about in classrooms, yet they are right before our very eyes if we look outside.
Not only can we learn about life itself by being in nature, but our own inner workings are impacted by the outside world. I believe that our ability to concentrate, focus and think creatively is enhanced by time spent in natural environments. I have seen this ‘nature deficit’ in my own practice and am appalled by the disservice we are doing our kids and our planet.
- I value the capabilities of children and their innate ability to discover whatever they need to know
- I value experiences that engage and grow the senses
- I value risk and challenge
- I value education that educates for life, not just examinations
- I value child-directed play, with adults in the role of ‘wonder partner’
- I value ‘loose parts’ play in developing creativity
To advocate for, and protect, the time our children spend in self-directed play, especially in nature.
As both a mother and a teacher, I want to investigate ways to advocate for self-directed play for our children here in Singapore. I want to spend as much time as possible in nature with my son, for both his health and development, and mine. So, please join in as my family and I explore self-directed play and nature play opportunities here in Singapore!