Play Ground Play

7 January 2008 – 19 September 2008

During this project, I have learnt how important free play is to the development of the brain. I spent six months working with 190 children observing them playing in their school playground and actively engaging with them on a number of fantastical journeys.

The energy and motivation the children showed during this project was very inspiring and I hope you enjoy their journeys, stories and games as much as I did. Background to the project Horsenden Primary School is located in Greenford, Ealing. The school has highlighted communication, both verbal and non-verbal, and research skills as areas to address within the next 10 years and this ‘creative play’ project fits well with these priorities.

Identifying need

“Modern children are accustomed to manufactured toys with defined purposes, television and films that present someone else’s imagination, computers that use other people’s programs, and classes in dance or sports in which someone instructs them in what to do.” (Ref: Joan Almon: from the foreword to “Children at Play,” by Heidi Britz-Crecelius) As observed by the school, imaginative play is being eroded by new technologies. Modern life can easily leave little time for childhood and can also stunt our children’s ability to author their own imaginative play.

Overall benefits

The role of creativity is not just about culturally enriching our lives but also it allows us to see new solutions to problems we encounter. To see the “light at the end of the tunnel”, envision new inventions, resolutions and outcomes. By encouraging our children to create their own play we give them the ability to think creatively and create their own lives.

Method and ideology

Children are inherently adventurous but are often discouraged by the adults around them from playing certain games. For example, if their games mean they get dirty or include subject material like war games. It is important that there are as few limitations placed on the game as possible, remembering that it is not the play subject that needs monitoring or controlling but the behaviour and interpersonal relationships within the game. The children need to develop an understanding of the difference between game rules (an everchanging self-initiated structure) and good behaviour. Throughout this project, my aim was to nurture the participating children’s ability to engage in and initiate creative, imaginative play. There is a fine line between stimulating and stifling imagination, which is all too easy to cross.

The aim was to let the student determine the play. This Allowed the child’s imagination to develop as they played within this subtly guided environment where the child’s lead was followed and responded to with suggestions and expressions of interest. The sessions were long (half a day), informal and relaxed, in groups of 15. This replicated a leisure timeframe and not a school timeframe, aiming to encourage a freer personal space for the participants. During the session, children were asked to explore what they understood ‘play’ to be.

They were encouraged to say whatever they liked, no subject was taboo and no subject hierarchies were tolerated. (It was explained that all topics were equally valid, but we as individuals are not all equally interested in all subjects). Within this environment, the children felt free to express their own thoughts and began to intertwine their ideas with those of their peers creating complex narratives that sometimes defied logic and were enjoyed by all.

Use of art materials, toys and props

For this project, all equipment needs to be flexible so that it can be played within a variety of different ways. It needs to be simple, allowing the child’s imagination to complete the details to suit their mood or play. The materials selected were simple drawing tools. These were used to stimulate thought and support creative ideas.

Creation of this book

Teachers observed a large difference between the students in their ability to transfer ideas from their imaginative play into their written work. Through discussions, the idea to transcribe the children’s imaginative stories into book format started to develop. Slowly over the course of the project, the idea of a Horsenden Games Book that could encourage ideas to flow back into new playground games started to emerge.

Harriet Murray 2008

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