By Grace C. Diez
Who would have thought that a simple act of play house, sandcastle-building, basketball, patintero or taguan could be your child’s earliest form of schooling?
Professor Peter Gray, world-acclaimed evolutionary psychologist on play in early childhood, recently visited Miriam College-Henry Sy Sr. Innovation Center (HSSIC) for Rethasia International’s Jumpstart 2017: An Early Years Leadership Symposium to discuss how children’s natural curiosity, playfulness, and sociability serve as a way to educate themselves.
“Children are far more capable of learning what they need to know. They are biologically designed to educate themselves,” said Gray. “And play is the primary vehicle through which children learn.”
During Dr. Gray’s session, he noted the varieties of children’s play which have crucial roles in human development. These varieties of play are: physical play (locomotor, chasing, rough and tumble), linguistic play (nursery rhymes), constructive play (building blocks, sandcastle-building), fantasy and sociodramatic play (play house or “playing princess”), and formal games with rules (basketball, soccer).
Characteristics of play
Since we have all experienced the joy of play both in childhood and in adulthood, it is easy to understand the defining characteristics of play that the American psychologist generously shared.
1. Play is self-chosen and self-directed. Through play, children learn to create and negotiate the game rules. There is also the ultimate freedom to quit the game.
2. Play is motivated by means more than ends. Play is how children find and pursue their passions. Children play mainly because of the joy derived from it and not because of the reward or the ultimate goal of winning. Dr. Gray mentioned the act of building sandcastles as something that kids enjoy more than seeing the finished sandcastle.
3. Play is guided by mental rules. All plays are structured and directed by children themselves. Play is nature’s way of teaching children to control their impulses and behave in accordance with shared conceptions of how to behave especially when there are other children to play with.
4. Play is imaginative. Play almost always involves some element of imagination and fantasy and by now, as adults, we know that imagination is crucial for human thinking such as playing ideas with your head, designing, hypothesizing, and planning.
5. Play is conducted in an alert, active, but non-stressed frame of mind. The beauty of play is there’s no pressure to reach a certain goal because it’s not supposed to count and no one’s keeping score. Keeping score, such as in sports or games, is no longer play but viewed as work. Being relaxed is the ideal state of mind for learning, creativity, and insight.
Instinct and learning
According to Dr. Gray, children possess educative instincts which help them in their adventures to self-educate. Among these are the following:
Curiosity. Children have strong curiosities and it pushes them to explore their world. Curiosity is the embodiment of a child’s drive to learn.
Playfulness. This refers to the drive to practice skills and get creative. Children often think things founded on imagination and inspire them to invent things such as rules when working out the logic of a game.
Sociability. This is a child’s drive to know what others know and share what they’ve learned.
Willfulness. Willfulness is the drive to be in charge of one’s own life and this is most evident when the child starts saying “no,” be makulit or pushy in getting what they want and assert themselves. Dr. Gray urged the parents to view it as something positive as it teaches children to be independent.
Planfulness. It refers to the drive to make plans for the future. It is a display of a child’s ability to think ahead. Take note that whenever children play a game, they think of their next move.