It is more serious than you think. Play is like so many other things in life. We know that it is beneficial, but we don’t take it seriously. We either don’t know the specifics of how or why it is good to do or we compare it to other activities we need to devote our time to and it doesn’t win out. It is easily postponed or substituted with some more meaningful activity.
I just recently listened to Press Play, the March 27th podcast from the TED Radio Hour from NPR. In this episode Stuart Brown a psychiatrist and researcher for the National Institute for Play talked about how important play is in our lives. It is especially important for young children for their cognitive, social, emotional and physical development, but it is also important for people of all ages, including adults. He emphasized the importance of play in developing problem solving skills. He went on to say that the opposite of play is depression. He didn’t give a clear definition of what constitutes play, but he did explain that if the purpose for doing the action is more important than the act itself, then it probably isn’t play.
Play is the ultimate flow experience, so as teachers how can we integrate play into our lessons. To be honest, I’m not sure how, if the purpose of the action can’t be more important than the act itself. It is so ingrained in me as a teacher to have a well defined objective for every action I do or my students do in class. Every game and activity has a goal and I am there to help them and keep them on track using English. How can it truly be play if the purpose is for the students to learn and use English a language that they would never choose on their own to use during play?
I am intrigued by the challenge. I may not be able to create a completely natural play situation in my EFL classes, but I can try. I have witnessed in my classes moments when students were playing a game and the purpose of using English disappeared into the background and only the game and play remained. Although the students were using English, they weren’t focused on it. They were focused on the game. Those are exciting times for an English teacher. The goal is to engineer the language learning and activity structure to make that possible. It is not easy, but worth the effort. Although it may be artificial play according to Stuart Brown’s idea of what constitutes play, as an English teacher I can’t ignore the fact that students come to my classroom with a goal to learn English. I believe that in an educational setting, goal-oriented play is valid, but to make it more effective we should emphasize the play to the students and keep the goal to ourselves. Now I am off to enjoy a weekend full of play!