The importance of ‘play for the sake of playing’ was examined at a unique event featuring pop up adventure playgrounds, hula hoops, bubble machines and the research behind all the fun at Edge Hill University.
Specialist practitioners and academics were on hand to explain why playing, colouring, making and simply enjoying yourself is important at the Play Symposium in the Faculty of Health and Social Care.
The aim of the event was to celebrate play, from childhood to adulthood, and raising awareness of play as a fundamental human right; considering the wider holistic benefits of play including therapeutic uses and supporting resilience, mental health and wellbeing.
The symposium featured guest speaker Suzanna Law, one of the founders of UK based charity Pop Up Adventure Play. The pop up adventure playground model is a temporary play space that can be set up anywhere for open-ended play with loose parts and materials, and supervised by playworkers.
Standing next to a homemade playground comprising sturdy tubes and recycled materials, she explained what the charity is about. “It’s amazing what children are capable of if they are given a little time to play. We show adults how great play can be and encourage children to do it, explaining why play is important and what children can get out of it,”
“Play is as important as eating, sleeping and breathing for a child,” said Suzanna. “If a child is play deprived there is a fundamental jigsaw piece missing, it contributes to movement and skills and executive functioning – any task that requires planning, organization, memory, time management and flexible thinking becomes a challenge.
“Parents are sometimes worried that children might fall behind if they are playing rather than learning, and also don’t want them to go outside because they think ti’s not safe, but society has never been safer. Children shouldn’t be missing out.”
Karen Boardman, Head of Early Years in the Faculty of Education spoke to the students about play deprivation, and how play is implicated in children’s brain development, and there was the opportunity to try different play materials such as bubbles, homemade play dough and other sensory play materials, hula hoops and photo booths with dressing up costumes.
Zoi Moula, a Graduate Teaching Assistant who is completing her PhD in Arts Therapies outlined her current research which involves working with children in mainstream primary schools to understand their perspectives and physical responses to movement.
But play isn’t just important to children, the idea of play for all ages was also included.
Catherine Wilkinson, Lecturer in Children, Young People and Families, explained how young people engage with radio and how young people use radio to play. She worked with Community Station KCC Live in Knowsley when carrying out her research. She said: “Radio is a whole lifespan play activity,” she said, “for example editing or recording a voice over is a kind of play, and adults play with the technology as well.
“Adults also play when they take part in drama, a theatre production, wearing costumes, fancy dress, just because you’re older doesn’t mean you don’t play any more.”
John Marsden, lecturer in Counselling in the Faculty of Health and Social Care also discussed with the students the benefits of colouring, adult colouring, and relaxation, and also how some young people he has worked with have gained control of their life through the medium of colouring.
The event was organised by Hayley McKenzie and Laura Ashton-Goldthorpe and is part of the programme of study for students in Child Health and Wellbeing and Health and Social Wellbeing degree courses.
Hayley said: “We wanted to look at play through the ages, from birth onwards, considering what it provides physically, for wellbeing, emotionally and in the community.
“Everybody should play and can play. Play shouldn’t have to end in a product – it is something to do for the sake of playing and it doesn’t have an end result.
“When we play and enjoy ourselves chemicals such as serotonin are released in the brain, research by Simon Young published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience in 2007 suggests that serotonin which is found in the brain when we experience positive mood plays a role, not only in the treatment of depression but also in susceptibility to depression and suicide.”
“Likewise play is seen as a tool for happiness, reducing anxiety, strain and burn out, it contributes to relationship success boosts your immune system and promotes overall holistic health and wellbeing in all ages. Everybody needs to make more time for play.”
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