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Family Skills
2 February 2024

Play Is The Way : Why Exploratory Play is Crucial for Young Minds

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Focus

Exploratory Play is not only important, but it’s a child’s right. Besides its importance to children, it should be important to us.

Summary

Play: Engaging in an activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than serious or practical purposes.

  • Play has declined in the past 5 decades,
  • Our focus on structure can be harmful,
  • Exploratory play can result in Social, Emotional and Intellectual benefits far greater than we often realise.

Setting the Stage for Play

We often forget just how important play is, and focus too much on the horizons. Young minds need to explore, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be there along the way.

  • The past 5 decades has seen a serious decline in the way in which kids play.
  • Play is fundamental for young minds and bodies.

Professional consensus is in, play is the way. It’s a social, emotional, physical powerhouse of outcomes. When kids (and adults) play, amazing things happen. However in the past 5 decades there has been a serious decline in the way in which kids play.

Risky Kids sees play though as so much more than just a fun and necessary developmental step, we see it as fundamentally the actions of a curious mind, seeking to understand the world around it with creativity and a hunger for the unknown!

We Want The Best, We Can Make Mistakes

As parents and educators we can sometimes confuse structure and gaining observable skills with healthy growth. But emphasis on this too early and this can be harmful.

  • Structure too early in recreation can be harmful,
  • We can still have standards, even during free, exploratory play,
  • Freedom let’s young people form identities and develop resilience,

Focusing on structure and set standards too early with young minds can be harmful. Play needs to be exploratory, and enormous amounts of research now shows us that this is one of the most important opportunities that we can provide for young people.

That isn’t to say that we can’t challenge young people during this time, and help them to achieve goals and pursue ideas and navigate failure. However by imposing structure on them, such as dictating “how” they play, we remove from them these opportunities.

We often do it in the belief that it’s going to help them grow, but more often it just means that we force them into a box and they miss opportunities to develop resilience and form early identities. However when we let them be free in their play, with us guiding them, we see a multitude of benefits.

Social Benefits of Exploratory Play

When we explore, we learn a lot about not just ourselves, but others. This can deepen relationships between parents and children and improve their socialisation

The relationships that we build during play are powerful, and can even be life long. We can test our understanding of the world with those around us.

  • Establishment / Maintenance of Relationships – Play lets us meet new people and get to know them, as well as exploring existing relationships.
  • Practising of Adult Roles – Young people can imitate and mirror the actions of those around them, learning to understand and value the roles of their community.
  • Development of Identity – We can also learn to understand ourselves, and what challenges, nurtures or nourishes us as complex people.

Emotional Benefits of Exploratory Play

When we explore, we expose ourselves to failure and discomfort and new, exciting ideas and experience a range of emotions we can learn and master.

Just like with our body, our emotional skills can be tried, tested and developed through playful exploration.

  • Development of Emotional Strategies – We can test and try different methods of regulating our emotions in different environments.
  • Non-crucial Exploration – When testing challenging or even harmful emotional exploration (such as fear and sadness) we can do so in non-critical ways.
  • Emotional Development – Besides strategies and exploration, we know that the development of emotions like empathy are directly linked to play early in life.

Intellectual Benefits of Exploratory Play

We can build strategies and intuition to respond more quickly and intelligently to situations by exploring and challenging ourselves.

Our intellectual and higher thinking also benefits deeply from play based behaviour. We can test and develop a myriad of deep and complex ways of thinking.

  • Development of Adaptive Behaviours – Our experiences help us to build and understand ways to adapt to a variety of situations.
  • Improvement of Intellectual Development – The presence of healthy and accessible play has been linked to the improvement of intelligence in a wide variety of ways from inter-social to academic intelligence.
  • Creativity –  Play also enables and develops creative thinking and expression.

Conclusion

Exploratory Play is critical for healthy young minds, and also families! By participating in all of this together, you’ll get to know your young people more deeply, and they’ll grow to be confident, successful and healthy.

Richard Williams

Richard Williams

Risky Kids Founder, Director of Programming

Richard Williams is a fitness industry consultant, gym owner, business coach and professional stunt actor with more than a decade of experience in the health and fitness industry. With an education in psychology and criminology, Richard blended life experience as a fitness industry consultant with Spartan Race, gym owner, elite-obstacle racer, ultra-runner and professional stunt actor to create the Risky Kids program.

Richard has a passion for enacting meaningful social change through all avenues of health and wellbeing and believes that obstacles are the way. Some of Richard’s key achievements include:

  • Key consultant/coordinator Spartan Race/Tough Mudder/Extreme Endurance
    (Australia/NZ/Global)
  • OCR World Championship Finalist –  Team & Solo (2015)
  • OCR World Championship Silver Medallist – Team Endurance (2018)
  • Professional film and television stunt performer for 15 years

Considered one of Australia’s foremost experts in the fields of fitness, wellbeing and behavioural science, Richard is frequently in demand as a guest speaker for relevant government and non-
government bodies and organisations. Speaking engagements centred on the success of the Risky Kids program, philosophy and approach have included:

  • Expert speaker/panellist Sports & Camp; Recreation Victoria and Outdoors Victoria forums
  • Closing expert speaker at the Australian Camps Association National Conference
  • Expert speaker at the National Fitness Expo, FILEX