ON THE VITAL IMPORTANCE OF PLAY FOR GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT OF OUR GIFTED CHILDREN
Remembering what play is all about and making it a part of our daily lives is one of the most important factors in being a fully integrated human being, and absolutely essential for our gifted children.
The value of play is increasingly recognized, by researchers and within the policy arena, for adults as well as children, as the evidence mounts of its relationship with intellectual achievement, and, importantly, our social and emotional well-being.
Play, in all its rich variety, is one of the highest achievements of the human species,alongside language, culture and technology. Indeed, without play, none of these other achievements would be possible.
At its best, play is performed for its own sake, not purpose or achievement other than itself.
Most if not all, great discoveries, even in science, have been the result of intense effort, along with uninhibited, playful curiosity and joy of exploration on the part of the discoverer.
In many ways – at at our peril – children’s right and opportunities for play have been constrained within modern urbanised societies throughout the world.
Why is this the case?
(1) The environmental ‘stressors’ of contemporary life: our go, go, go life-philosophy with its emphasis on production and achievement
(2) Our increasingly risk-averse society,
(3) Our disturbing separation from nature, and
(4) Tensions within the educational arena with its “earlier is better’ programming thrust focusing on traditional academic studies, achievement and production (considered to be more important than physical play, or music, or the arts, or simple, unstructured creative expression).
The evolutionary and psychological evidence points to the crucial contribution of play activities in humans to our success as a highly adaptable species.
Having plenty of play opportunities is strongly related to both cognitive development, social development and emotional well-being.
During play, the brain makes sense of itself through simulation and testing.
Play activity actually helps sculpt the brain.
The amount of play we engage in is correlated with the development of the brain’s frontal cortex, the brain region responsible for cognition, where we discriminate relevant from irrelevant information, monitor and organize our own thoughts and feelings, and plan for the future.
Our perceptual experiences are coded within the brain in scattered “maps,” each of which is a complex network of interconnected neurons. The very rich connections among various areas of the brain are reciprocal and involve millions of fibers.These interconnecting and dynamic maps are enriched and shaped by having plenty of opportunities to enter “states” of Play.
The mechanisms underlying these relationships appear to be related to play’s role in the development of linguistic and other representational abilities, and its role in the development of meta-cognitive and self-regulatory abilities.
In play, we can try things out without threatening our physical and emotional well-being.
We are safe precisely because we are JUST playing.
We are exploratory and spontaneous.
We can try things on and be lifted out of the mundane.
Play is like oxygen; all around us, yet it mostly goes unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.
The beneficial effects of getting just a little true play can spread throughout our lives, making us more productive, healthier and more deeply engaged, in everything that we do.
So we stop for a moment to reflect: where do our exceptionally gifted children have the opportunity to play, without restraint, without judgement, in deep community?
“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of human kind can unfold . . . And what does every child believe every adult is capable of doing? Of actually being able to bend the world to an inner desire, exactly what the child is busily practicing in his passionate play. And what does every child dream? Of possessing his own powers over the world when he grows up”.
Joseph Chilton Pearce The Magical Child
In this new year ahead let us continue to support opportunities for our children to grow and to explore their potentials, and let this support fully embrace the immense value of play.
About the Author: P. Susan Jackson, Therapeutic Director of The Daimon Institute for the Highly Gifted in White Rock, British Columbia, Canada. This international institute offers service to highly and profoundly gifted children and adults, supporting the learning needs and overall development of this exceptional population.
Her clinical work spans 25 years, comprising over 40,000 hours of psychotherapy wholly with this exceptional population. She is the author of numerous articles and chapters in the gifted education literature. Her Integral Practice for the Gifted model addresses multiple aspects of human functioning – cognitive, emotional, spiritual, physical and talent based dimensions – and explains how advanced cognition influences all of these elements, the Self, and the expression of talent.
In 2010, she produced a short documentary entitled “Exceptionally Gifted Children”, which she received wide acclaim internationally. In 2013-2014, the Daimon Institute produced “Rise: The Extraordinary Story of the Exceptionally Gifted” – a 60 minute film on the lives of 12 exceptionally and profoundly gifted persons from all over the globe.
Sue served as the Chair of the Parents and Curriculum Networks Communications Committee and Counseling and Guidance Network (National Association to Support Gifted Children), and is a member of the advisory board for SENG. She is recognized as an international expert in the field of the Exceptionally and Profoundly Gifted and regularly presents with other leading experts at the international conferences. She is a (nascent) photographer, poet, and nature lover with a passionate interest in advanced development, optimal health and well-being for the Profoundly Gifted populace.