The Need for “Wild” Play: Let Children Be the Animals They Need to Be | Psychology Today

01/03/2012 8:08

Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above. 

…This second edition of Bob Hughes’s Evolutionary Playwork is an outstanding book that should be read carefully by anyone who’s interested in play, and then read again and again. 

……..After all, we’re big-brained altricial mammals, born helpless and requiring extensive adult care, who learn a wide variety of skills through different sorts of play. 

…..what is “evolutionary playwork”….Hughes coined the term to re-emphasise that the growing body of scientific evidence confirming a direct relationship between play, evolution and brain growth, demonstrated that play work should never have been viewed either as a social engineering, a socialising or citizenship tool, but rather as comprehensive support for deep biological processes—expressed through mechanisms like adaptation, flexibility, calibration and the different play types—that enabled the human organism to withstand the pressures of extinction.” Thus, “playwork was about helping the species to survive extinction and adapt to change, by ensuring that wild adult-free play in diverse environments was still a choice for its children.”

Hughes also wants to know what we need to do in the future to make real play a reality, play that is not bounded by adult rules….. if the activity is bounded by adult rules, if it is stiff, formalised and dominated by the need to score points and flatter one’s ego, that is not play, it is something else….. Play, like life, is not safe, and if it is, it is not play.

… From time to time teachers and child psychologists ask me questions such as, “What can we learn from the way in which animals play that will help us gain a better understanding of human play?” This is happening more and more as kids are increasingly pulled from the playground to their computers and other devices …….Social networks also get in the way of spontaneous social play and many people are rightfully concerned about what these means for the current and future well-being of today’s youngsters.

Basically, we can learn about the various reasons why animals play including its vital role in social development and socialization, physical exercise, cognitive development, and also for learning social skills concerning fairness, cooperation, and moral behavior …

…..Simply put, and I don’t know anyone who would disagree (including perhaps even those who force kids to sit in front of their computers and don’t support the U. N. Convention of the rights of the child) young children need to play just as young animals need to play. We need free-ranging kids and we need to allow kids to be the animals who they are. They must be allowed to “get down and dirty” and learn to take risks and negotiate social relationships that might be complicated, unexpected, or unpredictable. ………. “It is vital that we understand that our children are our future, that without them we do not have one, and without ‘wild’ play neither do they. They need freedom and space, and both should be awarded freely and ungrudgingly, as a demonstration of our civilization.” 

I love the slogan of Play Wales, Better a broken bone than a broken spirit, attributed to Lady Allen of Hurtwood. We should embrace it with all our heart. 
Tess Michaels