The Meaning of Play

I attended a presentation on the weekend held by Winnipeg Attachment Minded Families. I have to admit I was a little nervous as I would not consider myself an attachment parent. I have an aversion to labels. I am any manner of parent…depending on my lovely daughter’s moods! Both are fiercely independent hence my reluctance to use the attachment parenting label. However on a bright spring Saturday morning my fears were calmed by a wonderful presentation by Pamela Whyte on the Meaning of Play. Pamela works exclusively from the approach developed by Dr. Gordon Neufeld.

I came to understand that attachment is not just babywearing and helicopter parenting. It involves developing a secure and healthy relationship with your child. Pamela described attachment as building that strong connection to encourage children towards independence. They can then go out into the world and still retain their deep connection to you. I know my girls will travel and I will encourage them to explore the world but no matter how far away they are, I hope to always feel they are close.

I will attempt to give you the main gist of the presentation which turned out to be quite an undertaking. Pamela managed to convey so much information in less than three hours. I have struggled to do her justice. I will use bullets to try to highlight the main concepts I have taken away from this presentation.

  • We have a culture that feels determined to stamp out play. We are often obsessed with outcomes and readiness for Kindergarten forgetting that young children need to play (being a teacher; I have this issue).
  • Play dates back to our beginnings, all mammals play and have a long and beautiful history. I think of parlour games and singing and all those wonderful things we used to do to entertain ourselves before TV, computers and social media invaded our lives. As adults, we have often forgotten how to play, with work influencing more and more of our lives.
  • Play vs Work?
  • Play does not have outcomes. Play is free of consequences. A wonderful example which Pamela used is the game of marbles. When you play for ‘funsies’ you are playing. When you play for ‘keepsies’ it changes the dynamic of the play. There is a chance you could lose your marbles!
  • Play is outside of reality. Life can be practiced, children can role-play ‘being in charge’ without consequences or risk. Play is expressive and about exploration. Plato described it as a ‘leap’ and when watching my cats and dogs in particular I can see that leap in the physical sense.
  • Play is freedom. Pamela discussed a period of time when she was homeschooling her young children. She was embracing Waldorf theories and building a beautiful natural wooden play and learning space. Lego did not fit into this ideal but her son had a natural engineering knack and needed more materials to work with. Pamela struggled with her educational decisions (as many of us educators and parents do) and decided a place for Lego had to be found in her family’s home. Creative outlets through interests, allow expression of the self. The more we get to express ourselves the more space we have for creating.
  • Learning for learning’s sake is play. The difference between learning because I want to and because I have to for a course or assignment, is clear to me. The former is fun, the latter is a chore.
  • Work has outcomes and objectives. Work has pressure and expectations. Screen time displaces playtime. While tech is an inevitable part of our lives don’t let it take over.
  • To become capable of “work” a child must have a working prefrontal cortex: they must be able to experience more than one conflicting thought or feeling simultaneously. Young children are not wired up to do this, and some children take longer than others to develop this capacity. An example is giving a child a choice. Often children cannot choose between two concepts. We often expect too much at too young an age.
  • Are we giving our children and students enough play time? In an ideal world, an average 2 year old may be able to and want to play alone for 5 minutes. Many children cannot do this because they do not get enough into attachment.
  • Everything in the early years can be achieved through play. Pamela gave the example of a study which showed Kindergarten play based curriculum, results in children performing better than the academic based children, by grade four
  • Protect play – we need it and our children and students need it!

If you would like to contact Pamela please see her website or  Facebook page for further information.

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” George Bernard Shaw

17 Replies to “The Meaning of Play”

  1. Thanks for this! I think all of these learnings directly apply to adults as well. As a 38-year-old non-mom, I am quite far away from childhood, however I’m reading a lot about the creative mind and how hard it works when we are not concentrating on solving a problem, and it’s true! Play, or other non-work, is integral to that creative problem solving thought activity. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, there is a physical nature to playing with kids – there is a lot of movement (kids don’t seem to sit still for long, unlike electronic play), and there is an engagement with the imagination that I don’t often use in my regular life. Just like vitamins, I think we should all play (with children and without electronics) very regularly! It’s good for the soul.

  2. I couldn’t agree more! Kids should be allowed to just be kids. There’s plenty of time for working and being all grown-up when they’re grown-ups. YAY for PLAY!!!

  3. Glad you came out, and even more glad to hear how enjoyable it was for you. My son is spirited and independent, but I still consider my parenting style to be attachment minded, because we prioritize our family relationships over getting my son to ‘behave’, in order to use that attachment to guide and lead him.

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  4. Interesting. I think with my education background, it’s very hard for me not to focus on the outcomes. I should try redirect my focus when they are playing. I like the analogy of funsies/keepsies.
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. I have the same problem Jackie. We often tend to think of outcomes and learning objectives before anything else, as teachers. I try to switch off my teaching brain when playing …. it doesn’t always work!

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