June 11, 2021

The Hidden Element in Your Play History

The Hidden Element in Your Play History
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More and more research is showing there is a correlation between play deprivation and depression. Dr. Stuart Brown, who we will hear today is the founder of the National Institute for Play, and the author of the national best-selling book Play, How It Shapes the Brain Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. His decades of work have proven play to be a biological drive as integral to our health as sleep and nutrition. 

For the next three episodes, we're going to focus on play, what it is, why it's important, and how to ensure we engage regularly.

Recommended Links:


Dr. Stuart Brown TED talk. https://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_play_is_more_than_just_fun/transcript?language=en#t-958746

Kevin Carroll TED talk. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pz72Wygg8c


If humans are naturally drawn to learning, why doesn't everyone enjoy school? If everyone has unique gifts and talents? Why do some people feel dumb, depressed and insignificant? If you want something different, you need to do something different. Welcome to the Element Is Everything podcast where we discuss real world experiences, research and strategies around finding your element, what it is, how to do it, and how to support others in developing it. Please welcome your host with over 30 years experience in public education and independent learning, Terry Novacek.

Terri Novacek  0:50  
Imagine yourself engaged in play? Where are you? What do you doing? What is it about this place in activity that make it feel like play to you. Now imagine yourself engaged in play on a daily basis, maybe even at work or while learning. For the next three episodes, we're going to focus on my favorite topic, play, what it is, why it's important, and how to ensure we engage regularly. While few will argue play is a young child's method of learning and important to their health and development. You don't hear much conversation around the importance of play for older adolescents, teens and adults. Why is that? Is it because it's seen as immature, considered not grown up enough? Play brings us joy. It puts us in the zone. It's just flat out fun. In some sense, I feel like fun is the new F word. If you're having fun, you aren't taking life serious enough contributing to the greater good enough. You're goofing off. Should we feel guilty? If we have fun outside of vacation time or beyond weekends? I say no. Personally, I don't think it's a coincidence that as fewer people of all ages engage in play, that rates of depression and anxiety rise. More and more research is showing there is a correlation between play deprivation and depression. Dr. Stuart Brown, who we will hear today is the founder of the National Institute for Play, and the author of the national best selling book Play, how it shapes the brain opens the imagination and invigorates the soul. His decades of work have proven play to be a biological drive as integral to our health as sleep and nutrition. Okay, so what's so great about play? Sure, it's fun, but life can't always be about fun, right? Well, for those of you more serious types, you can rest assured the benefits of play go well beyond fun. Play is essential for developing social skills and adult problem-solving skills. It supports the development of creative thinking, independence and perseverance. It builds skills for ownership, physical activity, creative expression, and the ability to demonstrate competence. During play, we build our memory and improve our decision-making skills. We learn things like self-regulation, how to set follow and change rules, we learn to identify times in which we should lead and when we should follow, we experience a wide range of feelings. And through all that we are exercising the neural networks of our brain that support reward, memory, cognitive flexibility, and stress regulation. All the same processes that are activated during learning. And equally, if not more important than the skills developed. Play reduces stress and build self-esteem. Play is both simple and complex. There are many types of play and researches study every aspect from how children learn through play, how outdoor play impacts children's health, the effects of screen time on Play, down to the need for recess in a school day. Over and over and over again. We see play and learning go together. Like a science lecture and lab, or like peanut butter and chocolate, assuming you don't have peanut allergies that is.

Terri Novacek  5:09  
Let's journey back in history a bit to the cave back when children develop skills for adulthood by playing tag and throwing spears. Today's world provides for so many more tools beyond our hands, feet and spears that allow children to play adult to engage in activities that require risks, but without high stakes, where they can learn, make mistakes, adjust and build resilience. Play provides practice in a place and a time for learning that cannot be achieved through completing a worksheet. For example, in playing restaurant, children write and draw menus, set prices, take orders, and makeout checks. In a nutshell, plays supports mastery, autonomy and purpose, all of which are essential to self determined learning and finding your element. Let's take the adolescent who decides to build a go kart a fort, a birdhouse you name it. Whether the child is building a bird feeder for a Mother's Day gift, or well on the way to joining the likes of Elon Musk building a rocket to provide public transportation to the moon. He's measuring, calculating, crafting, testing and formulating theories. In education, we refer to this as the scientific process. An entire class periods and even unit studies are designed around it to the child. It is play free exploration. So what constitutes play, Peter Gray in evolutionary developmental psychologist explains in his book Free to Learn that the things children learn through their own initiatives in free play cannot be taught in other ways. Free Play is how children learn to structure their own behavior. The key word here being free, as in free choice, as he puts it, pick up baseball is free play a little league game is not. So back to Dr. Brown, who says if its purpose is more important than the act of doing it, and it's probably not play. We'll have more about what constitutes play in the next episode. So today, as we focus on why we should play, I'd like to share a couple clips from Dr. Brown's 2008 TED talk about the natural instinct and necessity for play.

Dr. Brown 2008 TED Talk  7:48  
The animal world has objectified it in the animal world. If you take rats who have who are hardwired to play at a certain period of their juvenile years, and you suppress play, they squeak, they wrestle, they ping each other that's part of their play, if you stop that behavior on one group that you're experimenting with, and you allow it in another group that you're experimenting with, and then you present those rats with a cat owner saturated color. They're hardwired to flee and hide. Pretty smart. They don't want to get killed by cat. So what happens, they both hide out. The nonplayers never come out, they die. The players slowly explore the environment and begin again to test things out. That says to me, at least in rats, and I think they have the same neurotransmitters that we do on a similar cortical architecture, that play may be pretty important for our survival. And and and there are a lot more animal studies that I could talk about. And we do know that in domestic animals and others when they're played deprived, they don't develop the end rats, also they don't develop a brain that is normal. Now program says that the opposite of play is not work. It's depression. And I think if you think about life without play, no humor, no flirtation, no movies, no games, no fantasy, and then try and imagine a culture or a life, adult or otherwise without play. And the thing that's so unique about our species, is that we're really designed to play through our whole lifetime. And we all have the capacity to play signal. Nobody misses that dog I took a picture of on the Carmel beach a couple of weeks ago. What's gonna follow from that behavior is play and you can trust it. The basis of human trust is established through play signals, and we begin to lose those signals. Culturally and otherwise, as adults, that's a shame. I think we've got a lot of learning to do.

Terri Novacek  10:07  
Dr. Brown tells us the basis of human trust is established through play signals. What are place signals, you hear him refer to a dog at the beach. The photo of the dog, which he's referring is one where the dog is in pounce, position, bowed down on his front legs, mouth open with excitement, eyes focused on the ball in front of him. Without words, we know this dog is saying, Come on, come on throw the ball. You know, you can trust he is not interested in fighting, running away or sleeping. It is abundantly clear his intention is all about play. Think about signals you send and receive that lets you know the intention here is play that smile joke, high five, pat on the back. How often and under what circumstances do you tend to give those signals? Could you give more? Should you give more? Why would your life be like if you played more? It is through play that we discover our interests and talents, as well as the things that aren't so interesting, or in which we have no talent. Take surfing, for example. It looks like a lot of fun. But many who try it realize they don't like being in saltwater for long periods of time. And those people out there at the crack of dawn that make it look so easy. It's not that easy. And no matter how many times you try to stand up on that wily board, you find you have no aptitude for it. And you don't want to one person's fun can be another person's torture. So here's your challenge for the week. Explore your life back to a clear, joyful, playful image that you have. Maybe it involves a special toy, an event or a vacation. Build from that how the emotion in the memory connect to your life Now, does what brought you joy in that memory? bring you joy now? And if so, do you still engage in similar activities? If not, are you in tune with what is fun to you today? Is there a way you might enrich your life by prioritizing play? Are you giving attention to your passion, your inner drive? Is there something in your play history that holds the secret to finding your element?