Leading up to Play

In collaboration with Kaneko’s Great Minds Series, our first speaker in the Co-op Film and Speaker Series is Dr. Stuart Brown. http://mcsomaha.org/series

I have always been fascinated by this idea that Stuart Brown eloquently explains. Sometimes I carefully watch when Naala, my 9 year old, is playing with her friends when all the adult organized things are absent and when they seem to have all lost track of time. She looks different to me, even physically, her movements free, her voice and laughter free. In a recent interview with Krista Tippet from the podcast On Being, Stuart says;

I could ask you as a parent and any other parent that’s listening with a young child, you know, say a child over 3 but under 12. And if you just observe them and don’t try and direct them and watch what it is they like to do in play, you often will see a key to their innate talents. And if those talents are given fairly free reign, then you see that there is a union between self and talent. And that this is nature’s way of sort of saying this is who you are and what you are. And I’m sure if you go back and think about both of your children or yourself and go back to your earliest emotion-laden, visual, and visceral memories of what really gave you joy, you’ll have some sense of what was natural for you and where your talents lie.”

Sounds like Marie Montessori would agree. Actually, they probably would be friends, both trained as physicians and later in life turned their attention to the careful observation of children. The idea of understanding play can also apply to us adults, who might feel chained to reading blogs instead of playing in the woods. Stuart Brown, trained in internal medicine, psychiatry and research, has spent his career conducting more than 6,000 play histories of humans from all walks of life from serial murders to Nobel Prize winners and encourages us to go back to the play of our childhood and explore how we spent our free time and what brought us the most joy.

On a personal note, Stuart is my cousin. I grew up in the farm house that Stuart’s father and my grandfather were born in. The Brown’s homesteaded there in 1886 and most of my play history involves swimming in the crick, befriending toads and garter snakes, and throwing rocks at my brothers then evading their pursuit. I see strong connections in my adult life to the outdoors and see myself trying to create opportunities for Naala, our 9 year old, to have nature as her playground.

But some of us ask, “Why play when we are so busy?” To answer this question, Dr. Stuart Brown says we need to clearly define what play is. He’s head of a nonprofit called the National Institute for Play. “Play is something done for its own sake,” he explains. “It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”

Brown says that children have a lot to learn from what he calls this “state of being,” including empathy, how to communicate with others, and how to roll with the punches. These lessons are not easily taught in the classroom and less easily measured on standardized tests. While adults might not be caught as often rolling down a hill or imagining a different universe we can include more play in our lives. “Those kinds of resilient learning processes [are] different than what occurs in adult play,” he says. “But the harmonics of this occur in adulthood as well.” And, quite frankly, can’t we all use some more harmony in our lives.

Come hear Stuart Brown on June 4th from 7-9 at the Kaneko. Bring your kids because Teal Gardner will be holding a Playlab on site. The talk is free for all Co-op families, and $20.00 for all non Co-op families.

Registration for non Co-op Families: http://thekaneko.org/kaneko-programs/great-minds-series-with-dr-stuart-brown/

Teal Gardner’s Playlab http://playlab.adventureplayomaha.com/

Stuart Brown’s NPR TED radio hour: http://www.npr.org/2015/03/27/395065944/how-does-play-shape-our-development