Thursday, 14 October 2010

Play is like breathing

I have searched the whole internet to see if this has been posted anywhere else and it hasn't. It isn't mine, I can claim nothing but having found this a few years back and saved it. I would love to credit "Jacky" so if that's you, or you know who it is then give me a shout. But this is too good not to share:

"I'm not sure if this is going to play out but here goes - Is play linked to present wellbeing or to future development?

 If we use the analogy of breathing, (both play and breathing being natural human processes?) we can see that we need oxygen to live both from day to day and to grow and develop. Our bodies are designed to get oxygen through breathing. Most people breathe without assistance and we are not taught to breathe it just happens. The more freely we breathe the better we feel. Had we not evolved to breathe we would not be here in our present form now. Without breathing we do not live. 

Our breathing changes automatically in relation to the personal and environmental circumstances it finds itself in, e.g. when we run we breathe more heavily to get more oxygen; if there is a lack of oxygen we breathe in a laboured way; when we are relaxed we breathe more slowly and deeply; if the air is polluted we breathe in some of the wrong stuff etc. In some circumstances we need intervention to help us breathe. The interventions can be minor - olbas oil on the pillow to help with a stuffed up nose; regular - inhaler for an asthmatic; ongoing - oxygen for someone whose lungs have collapsed; or major - full on mouth to mouth resucitation when somebody has stopped breathing. We can be helped with techniques to breathe if we are either having problems or if we wish to control our breathing more effectively, e.g. breathing in and out of a brown paper bag if we are hyperventilating, or becoming very aware of our breathing for meditating. From this we can see that breathing is the stuff of life past, present and future. Most of the time it happens automatically and without interference, but sometimes there is a need for intervention.

Play is also the stuff of life. We are designed to play. It happens automatically and it changes in relation to our own personal needs and circumstances. We need all the immediate benefits that play gives us as part of the process of playing. Had there been no playing in the past we would not be who we are now. If we do not play we are not emotionally healthy, we  do not live effectively and we do not develop fully. The environment can have an effect on the quality of the play that we do and sometimes we need intervention to help us have better play experiences both for the here and now and for the future. These interventions can be minor - a look to show that it's OK; regular - an after school club for children;  ongoing - wonderful props and places for play and friends; or major - play therapy, depending upon the circumstances. Sometimes we want other people to intervene in our play or we recognise that we need assistance. Other times somebody, other than ourselves, sees that we need help.

Now here is my point. Play is linked to our past, present and  future just as breathing is. Intervention is needed when people are having difficulty breathing and this should be appropriate to the problem. Generally healthy people either breathe automatically or they can control their own breathing. Generally children control their own playing and intervention is only needed when there is a problem or if the child invites it. The intervention then needs to match the circumstances. We do not resucitate somebody who has a snuffly nose, neither do we use olbas oil to cure a collapsed lung. The problem with intervention into play is that for too long in recent years when the rhetoric of play as progress has been the dominant one and formal education has been seen to be the only way to help children develop, we have been using the equivalent of play resucitation on perfectly healthy children when no intervention was needed, or at the most a bit of olbas in the environment might have improved the atmosphere!

I would say that of course play is linked to development, but this is not the only thing it is linked to, and there is a real danger in thinking this, if we think that we can in some way become responsible for how it plays out in the individual child.  If we intervene inappropriately we may well do more harm than good, or at very least we may be being completely ineffectual and not recognise the fact. A large majority of children need no form of intervention for their playing to be part of their natural healthy development. They will play and they will develop. However there are circumstances when some children do need intervention in their play and this may be needed just for the here and now and/or for the health of their ongoing development.

I wait with baited 'breath'     Jacky"


  1. Rudolf Steiner described education as 'learning how to breathe'. A Waldorf kindergarten morning follows the rhythms of in and out breathing, which descibe following the other (adult-led time) and long periods of expressing the self (free play). In order to be healthy human beings, we need to be able to balance these 2 opposing pulls on our will. lovely to hear these ideas echoeing... Tansy

  2. Thanks for the comment Tansy. I love finding the common ground with different approaches. It reminds me of that scientific maxim that if something is true then it will always prove to be true. I'm glad this post resonated with you. Lily

  3. Lily, I finally read this post in the wee hours of this morning. [I have been meaning to follow your blog ever since you started it and I found out about it from your Facebook page.] The beauty of your analogy and the power of the words and thoughts you shared made me cry. I long for this level of thought and dialogue with my current colleagues and staff. The ideas you put worth are the sorts of things I reflect upon in stolen moments of silence at work and that macerate in my head, resurfacing again during a sleepless night. I really should get back to my own now sadly languishing blog that I began with so much enthusiasm this summer. At least I would have a place to make my ideas visible, even if just for myself! Thank you for your inspiration and food for thought!

  4. Mia, thank you so much for your comment. I am glad you found some food for thought and I am glad we are in touch. I work with lots of different groups and practitioners so sometimes also find those long term dialogues lacking in the real world. How lucky there is such a fabulous group of us online sharing ideas,thoughts and reflections. I look forward to hearing more of yours. Lily

  5. Hi Lily, and Jacky
    Love the analogy, and the thoughts have stayed and echoed with me.
    I have always regarded playing as the golden thread of a person's life; an essential, a must have/must do, just as is breathing.
    I can easily imagine the cartoon-like image of a child's breath as threads of light...drawn in, held, expelled, without which.... a bit like play then.
    Nice and thanks for the post Jacky and Lily

    Off now to herd up some loose bits and bobs for a Family Fun in the Forest session on Saturday here in Barry - come and join in!!



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