Don't Prune Play

September 9, 2013

The picture to the right is a vine I planted outside of my mom's apartment. I failed to prune it. As a result, it grew to greater heights and beauty than I ever imagined.

Suddenly I wondered: How many young people do we prematurely “prune?” We limit what they can do by denying them opportunities as a result of our own fears. We limit what they think they can accomplish with our words of caution. Are we stunting their growth?

Jane Sanborn from Sanborn Western Camps recommended a book to me — Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart Brown. He says that play “energizes us and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities."

Of course, many of you know that play is one of my favorite topics. But, he immediately steps into another of my favorite topics — brain development: "neurologists, developmental biologists, psychologists, [and] social scientists from every point of the scientific compass now know that play is a profound biological process." For me, this supports my opinion that we should not alter or eliminate healthy environments that support the biological process that many of us call the right of childhood.

We also should not diminish the importance of our work.

Dr. Brown goes on to say that play promotes adaptability, empathy, and the ability to make complex social groups, as well as fosters creativity and innovation. This illustrates my problem with labels such as executive functioning, 21st-Century Skills, or life skills — this is simply and profoundly sound, positive, child and youth development. If we would practice it instead of trying to commercialize it, it seems we'd get further along.

Have you read Dr. Brown's book?  What did you think? Share in the comments below.