Chapter 4: Parenthood is child’s play
“We grow out of childhood and leave behind “childish things”. We feel that we shouldn’t act this way anymore, and get a sort of wilful amnesia for pure play experiences.” Page 78
I don’t feel like I’m this kind of person, I am playful and I feel like it’s inbuilt. I certainly remember being told and still being told “stop being silly Julia” by my mother who comes across as very serious but since being gifted with two fantastic grandchildren (thanks to my sister and brother-in-law) her play personality has come out, she is endlessly patient with them and plays with them all day long. Interestingly Stuart writes on the following page..
“I get the sense that adults feel that they themselves didn’t get it right, that they had something special and let it go. They don’t know where it went or how to get it back, but they would like to give their children (or grandchildren in my mum’s case) more options then they had.” Page 79
I don’t remember playing with my mum much as a child, we lived on a brilliant street where there was lots of kids all the same age, we all played outside together. Back then she would have been busy cooking our dinner and do all the things we don’t notice that our mums do. Now she has more time and can give Henri and Harri maybe something she feels we and her self missed.
Interestingly my dad was and is incredibly playful, he gets a lot of “stop being silly’s” and he’d play What’s the Time Mr Wolf when he got home from work with us before dinner and did a lot of imaginary play with me of an evening. Now as Grandad he likes reading his paper and drinking coffee after having a short play with the boys.
What I want to do as an artist is to make opportunities to play, if parents do feel like they want to encourage play there is an playful setting for the whole family to do it and have fun doing together and with other passers-by. I want to make work that is fun at all points in life.
Play at the beginning of life
When a baby is is three or four months old and is well fed and safe, and mother is open and calm, when the baby and parent make eye contact they have a harmonic meeting of minds. They are synchronising the neural activity in the right cortex of their brains: Attunement.
“If we assume the neurophysiological models of animal play apply to us, then attunement (the base state of play) buffers the growing infant and child against excessive sores if emotion. It also helps orchestrate the symphony of genetic signals the govern optimal brain development during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.” Page 83
Pretty amazing stuff!
Body and Movement Play
“Movement is primal and accompanies all the elements of play we are examining, even words or image movement in imaginative play. If you don’t understand and appreciate human movement, you won’t really understand yourself or play. Learning about self-movement creates a structure for an individuals knowledge of the world – it is a way of knowing. Through movement we play, we think in motion.” Page 84
If you think about expressions we use to describe emotion interestingly there are a lot of movement words; closed, distant, open. And we: grasp, wrestle and stumble across ideas. I think about the sea squirt – couch potato they are still in motion which losses them their brain. Don’t be a sea squirt, move and your brain will develop.
“Movement play lights up the brain and fosters learning, innovation, flexibility, adaptability, and resilience. These central aspects of human nature require movement to be fully realised.” Page 84
We should definitely keep moving! Which I am doing now. I’m sat on a ball and every time I go to read the book I start bouncing and bounce along to the songs on the radio. It just makes me giggle as I write about playful movement – here I am writing about it and doing it at the same time!
“The play-driven pleasures associated with exploratory body movements, rhythmic early speech (moving vocal cords), locomotor and rotational activity are done for their own sake; they are pleasurable and intrinsically playful. Yet they also help sculpt the brain.”Page 85
I need to make sure my installations encourage movement to encourage body and movement play.
Object play is about manipulating objects. It starts with spoons and teething rings, to toys, then to puzzles and footballs. In my case it could be manipulating my installations, touching them and pressing their buttons. Playing with objects in our hands helps us develop brains that are suited for understanding and problem solving. My husband is the worlds best problem solver, he must have done and continues to do lots of object play.
“Imagination is perhaps the most powerful human ability. It allows us to create simulated realities that can we explore without giving up access to the real world.” Page 86
Imaginative play nourishes our spirit and it is something we do throughout our whole life. Making up stories in our head, in my case imagination art works. I picture them in head long before they exist, many of them will never exist but I love imagining them and then drawing them out.
Imagination is key to emotional resilience and creativity, imagining helps us to develop empathy, understanding, trust and helps us with our coping skills.
This makes me think about Light Pavilion and the different things the audience imagined about it. I remember a friend telling Chris it must be about octopuses and he was so sure. His imagination did a brilliant job of convincing him. I’d love to know what the rest of the audience had imagined.
Social play can be peekaboo to dancing in pub to your favourite band with your best mates.
“Humans are social animals, and play is the gas that drives the engine of social competence.” Page 87
It includes friendship and belonging, rough and tumble play, celebratory and ritual play (birthday parties), storytelling, narrative play, transformative-integrative and creative play.
I find Transformative-Integrative and Creative Play really interesting. I feel it really demonstrates the benefits of play…
“Sometimes, though, in kids who are really stuck, play can provide a dramatic and obvious example of transformation. In the process of completing the PBS film series The Promise of Play, our crew was allowed to follow the progress of a nine year old girl who had been identified as depressed, friendless, and playless. At her school, time was set aside for her to work with a group called Positive Intervention Through Play, which was orchestrated by a teacher trained as a play therapist. We observed and filmed the girl over a four-month period. As she began to tap into basic play models, dance, play with toys in a dollhouse setting and so on, her isolative and inappropriate behaviour began to chance, and her mood lightened. At the last filming, the crew was in tears as she exuberantly and freely played on the playground with friends (who had previously shunned her due to her bizarre non playful behaviour) and was affectionate with her teacher. Her actual engagement in play, not coaching of her teachers had transformed her. Through play, her internal narratives had changed from sterile and sad to rich and imaginative.”Page 92-93
This is incredibly amazing and really shows how play can help our mental health. I am passionate about having work in the public realm to create chance encounters. I hope from doing this I can create playful opportunities for people who really need it, like this little girl and be able to help them to begin to transform their lives.
With families who provide healthy households play will come about naturally and bubbly up from inside their children. With love, a safe atmosphere and playfulness the play drive will naturally occur.
Sadly play and more playful subjects are being cut in schools, the book is American however I know the story is the same for the UK especially at second school. The system is being designed to provide a “skills-and-drills” approach with subjects like art and music being stopped. In some schools recess and physical education are being reduced and cancelled.
“The neuroscience of play has shown that this is the wrong approach, especially considering that students today will face work that requires much more initiative and creativity than the rote work this educational approach was designed to prepare them for.” Page 99
It’s thought that without play, optimal learning, social functioning, self control and other executive functions night not mature properly.
This makes me feel like artists roles are even more important to show that creativity can lead to great things along with creating creative and playful opportunities.
Learning and memory
Learning is an area I don’t have much experience about apart from my own learning. I am interested in bringing it into my artist practise, often commissioners like the audience to learn something about the site’s history. It does feel like a great benefit to bring in for the audience.
“Learning itself is enhanced by play.” Page 100. If I create an playful installation with a learning theme there is a higher chance that the audience will learn about it as they played while discovering it. This is further demonstrating on page 101:
“Play isn’t the enemy of learning, it’s learning’s partner. Play is like fertiliser for brain growth.”
To develop Light Pavilion I spent time attending Mini Engineers at the Transport Museum and Mini Makers at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum. These are both incredibly playful sessions for under 5’s with loads of fantastic learning built in. They are both great examples of play being learning’s partner. To find more out about them follow @mummy_lous_crew and @aplaylife on Instagram.
“Learning and memory seem to be fixed strongly and last longer when learned through play.” Page 101
This means learning that is inbuilt to my commissions should be remembered by the viewer. This makes me even keener to build in learning to my installations.
“The state if play is one in which attention is focused exclusively on the pleasurable play activity, and memory fixation has been shown to closely related to heighten attention and emotional rewards.” Page 102
Gifts of Play
“The excited boy or girl tears into the wrapping to uncover the box, then opens the box to find the perfect gift that the parent has worked so hard to find… Imagine the family chagrin, then, when three little darling is more interested in playing with the box than the toy.” Page 103
“Parents should be happy about such a turn of events. It shows that their child has developed a healthy play drive, one that comes from their own fantasies and desires.” Page 104
This is exactly what happen with toddlers and Light Pavilion. I brought a ramp to make it accessible and kids loved sliding down it and banging it. They’d do this for agers, never mind the amazing light installation that they could play with they just liked the ramp! This is inspired me to research play, it just makes me laugh!
“Later, kids get toys that come straight out of the movies or TV shows, toys that come with a present collection of ideas about who the characters are and how should play with the toys. This kind of performed script can rob the child of the ability to create his own story… A chance for imaginative flights of fancy is lost.” Page 104
At the moment this is happening with my eldest nephew. He loves Spider Man. Personally I don’t think it is totally a bad thing, he is creating his scripts and stories within the characteristics. I suppose it’s keeping that balance being proscribed play and imaginative play.
“Authentic play comes from deep down inside us. It’s not formed or motivated solely by others. Real play interacts with and involves the outside world, but it fundamentally expresses the needs and desires of the player. It emerges from the imaginative force within. That’s part of the adaptive power of play: with a bunch of pleasure it integrates our deep physiological, emotional, and cognitive capacities. And quite without knowing it we grow” Page 104
If my nephew plays Spider Man spontaneously and involves his brother and the sofa (sometime the curtains) he is expressing his desire to play. He writes the script with his imaginative forces within; there he grows without knowing it. If a child slides down my ramp and makes it rattle and tat they express they’re need to play, using their imagination and world around them. They have grown without knowing it.
Coming into adulthood: sophomoric rites of adolescence
This area doesn’t come into my practise so much. I do want to make my work accessible to all ages, it’s good for me to have an understanding of teenagers and their play. I do really enjoy working with 13/14 year olds. I had my first experience with the V&A and Transport Museum for Design Lab Nation and my second with Ludic Rooms and Warwick Art Centre for MiLab. I really did love my groups, they were great kids and didn’t express any Kevin and Perry traits while I worked with them! After reading this section I really do feel for teenagers.
“… a whole new set of brain genes that have been silent since brith turn on, creating a flowering of new neural growth and pruning of the cortical neuronal trees at a level unmatched since our early development in the womb. As the neural tangle works itself out, kids can see the world in unique and surprising ways.”Page 109
With all of this they have to grow up and prepare for the adult world, actually staying playful would be a big help.
“True mastery over a lifetime comes from one’s internal play compass. When parents and teacher push too hard to get kids to perform, children do not experience feels of competence and do to create from within their own sense of mastery.” Page 111
Maybe the reason the teenagers I worked with didn’t act up was because we were playing, they were playing with textiles and tech and being helped to master new skills in a playful way.
From child to adult
“If we are not completely full of ourselves or too serious, we can see that we can do a better job of helping our children be more joyful if we help ourselves remember how to play. If we are open to some self-evaluation, and do so with a lightness about our life opportunities, we will actually find a way to play” Page 122
If I create free, accessible ways to play that aren’t overly prescribed I hope adults can let go and let joy come and remember the pleasures of play. With inbuilt learning families can experience play together and will remember the experience. From the playful moment I hope they experience lightness opening them up to find ways to play throughout life.