“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity” – Kay Redfield Jamison said.
As much of the country looks for signs of hope that schools will reopen and life will return to something of a normal pattern, it’s vital that families, educators, and communities plan for how this next phase of living looks.
It is critical to guide and design the shape life takes for the care, support, and encouragement of all of us, but especially our children who have borne the brunt of restrictions in a way no other group has.
Childhood experts and researchers across the world agree that the absolute educational priority for transitioning back into the ‘new normal’ should be to offer young people unlimited opportunities for authentic, hands-on, screen-free play.
A panel of education experts convened in the UK recommended that schools should be given the necessary resources and guidance on how to support children’s emotional wellbeing as schools reopen and that ‘play should be a priority during this time, rather than academic progress’. They also strongly suggested that this message flow on to parents who might be concerned about their children falling behind due to school closures.
Instead of traditional lessons and academic progress, the focus should be on open-ended, non-prescriptive play. This type of ‘playwork’ has tremendous therapeutic value in overcoming the detrimental effects of anxiety, trauma, and isolation that occur as a result of being housebound, cut off from natural childhood freedoms, and separated from peers and loved ones.
Tactile, hands-on free play allows children to take back a degree of control over their environment, to construct a world that allows for ideation, risk taking, and the development of critical thinking.
According to Michael Martins from the University of Toronto, “Unstructured play and interactive play helps problem-solving skills. Open-ended play works on a child’s social skills, co-operative development, creative ambition and imagination. Leave kids to work and play by themselves, and they will learn how to resolve problems”.
Transition away from a greater dependence on screens and digital devices is also an important step in growing and maintaining emotional wellbeing for children. So many important interactions have been reduced to pixels on a two dimensional surface over the last several months, that bringing back ‘real world’ and in-person communication is paramount. Play helps to encourage these friendships and relationships, through collaborative creativity, teamwork, exploration of self-identity, and resilience.
According to ‘unplugged’ play advocate and Mud Kitchen Australia founder, Liz Rossiter, screen-free, open play doesn’t have to be complicated.
“When authentic opportunities for imaginative ‘unplugged’ play are presented, the link to learning comes naturally,” she said. “Some of the best play experiences come from simple things like using water, tubes, marbles, milk crates, and other found materials to explore physics concepts of gravity, speed, momentum.”
In her research to bring a more hands-on approach to learning, Rossiter has searched the world for the best play-based education equipment for classrooms, communities, and homes, which have been curated into a high-quality collection of resources sold in Australia and New Zealand through her company, Mud Kitchen.
Offering larger-than-life playful learning products from the US, such as Big Blue Blocks and Rigamajig, exclusively sold through Mud Kitchen, Rossiter is excited to be able to help Australia prioritise play and offer a creative, discovery-led way forward for young people nationwide.
“The team at Mud Kitchen are very proud to be in a position to assist Australian families, educators, and communities to plan for play as we look to the future that is hopefully more settled, more positive, and more connected in a hands-on, ‘unplugged’ and screen-free way,” she said.
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