Trying to define play is like trying to catch the sky in a jar. You might get a piece, but it will only ever be a reduction of the greater meaning you already hold. Because play, like love, is inextricable from human experience and it exists, and acts, before and beyond words.
Which is all very poetic, but hey, such is play. What we do know is that play is fundamental to the development, the health and the happiness of children. We know it is the mechanism through which imagination, relationships, and physicality intertwine into movement, experience, and knowledge.
It is the palette, the kiln, the laboratory, and yes, the poetry, of childhood.
We know that children’s free play develops socialisation skills, reduces feelings of isolation, improves executive functioning, and builds resilience and problems solving skills (Beyer et al., 2014; Burdette & Whitaker, 2005; Hughes, 2007).
We know that children develop essential physical literacies required for their life-long development during play and that opportunity for free play in childhood is a predictor of social success and individual adaptability (Beyer et al., 2014; Burdette & Whitaker, 2005; Hughes, 2007). And that children who do not have opportunities to play, particularly outdoors and with other children, demonstrate increased evidence of anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness and narcissism (Gray, 2011; Jarvis, Newman & Swiniarski, 2014).
And yet play is all too often relegated to an afterthought. It is thought of as the bit of fun that happens after all the important stuff is done. Or worse yet, it isn’t thought about at all. It is silent in the in the ‘serious’ discussions, and absent from the plans, strategies, and policies that are intended to make the lives of children better.
We talk about children’s health, cognitive development, social and emotional intelligence, and wellbeing through the prism of education, the health system, sport, and even economics. But when we leave play out of the discussion we miss a huge portion of the experience of childhood, and we are poorer for that.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. Play can get a seat at the grown up table. It can be seen and heard. And it can be a key driver in the wellbeing of generations of WA children.
WA Play Charter
And this is why Nature Play WA is pleased to have played a role in launching the WA Play Charter a couple of weeks ago along with Early Childhood Australia, Play Australia, and the other members of the Play Matters Collective, and supported by Colin Pettit the Commissioner for Children and Young People.
The Charter is a simple one-page document created by the Play Matters Collective, that lays out some of the first-principles of why play matters, and establishes some common language to help advocate for play.
Our aim is to have as many individual Western Australians, and organisations, endorse the charter as possible, to help elevate play into the deliberations of our decision makers, and to propel a community conversation about why play matters for our kids.
Here at Nature Play WA we firmly believe that WA should be the very best place in the world to be a child. We have endless space and endless sunshine. We have peace and comparative prosperity. We have a health system that means no child need go untreated and an education system that means no child need go untaught. But that doesn’t mean much if our children don’t have the happiness, resilience, optimism and joy that play brings.
Play is a part of our human heritage, it animates and colours the experience of childhood, it is a mechanism for growth an understanding, it is the right of every child, and its place in children’s lives needs to be preserved and assured.
Please endorse the WA Play Charter at https://www.playmatterswa.org.au/waplaycharter
WA Play Charter Launch Event
Nature Play WA was thrilled to host the WA Play Charter Launch event, and we thank all those who attended!