The Case for Play!

Written by: Meryl Neiman

I'll be honest. I'm a play advocate. I co-founded Playdate Planet, an online playdate scheduling site, and I write and speak frequently about the importance of play for children. I know that unstructured play for kids has declined drastically in the last two decades. I know that many schools have reduced, or eliminated, recess. I read stuff that depresses me about play, or the lack thereof, all the time. But, recently, I saw a news story that shocked even me. The NY Post reported that rich Manhattan parents are paying $400 dollars an hour to private instructors for play-date tutoring so that their little ones will fare better during those important elite pre-school evaluations. Apparently their children are a little out of touch with with how to play nice with others because they are too busy taking Mandarin and violin lessons to actually experience play with friends.  
As parents and as a society, we are concerned about making sure that our children are prepared to compete in the new global economy. I get that. We all want our children to find success and happiness. And nobody wants their 40 year old offspring still living in the basement! But here’s what doesn’t make sense to me. Let’s think about what it means to be competitive in our modern economy. We are no longer a newly industrialized nation looking for competent factory workers who can read and follow instructions, stay focused, and perform the same task multiple times per day. We now have machines that can perform much of these functions. What is building our economy these days is entrepreneurism and innovation. And for that we need people with the imagination to see the problems of the future and then solve them, people who are willing to take risks, people who are willing to fail and learn from these failures, and people who are able to function as part of a team.
There’s a great book out called Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer. All parents should read this book because it gives insight into the science behind creativity and how businesses are, knowingly or unknowingly, incorporating that science into their work cultures. This is why at 3M, the company that invented masking tape and currently sells more than 55,000 different products, employees are encouraged to take a walk, daydream, or play a game of pinball. Similarly, if you walk into one of Google’s office buildings, you’ll be greeted with scooters, ping-pong and pool tables, and other adult toys.  What may seem to be merely a recruiting tool or frivolous perk actually increases meaningful productivity. 
It’s clear that our country’s most successful and innovative companies understand what the science suggests: that creativity is not the product of sustained and constant concentration, but more typically strikes us when our brains most resemble that of a child at play. This is true when we look at young adults as well, as the authors of Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World found. So why are we cutting out recess, turning pre-school into kindergarten, and signing our children up for specialized tutoring instead of letting them loose to play? Why are companies working to instill creativity in their adult employees, while at the same time we are slowly stripping it from our kids? And why would parents pay adults to teach their children how to play, rather than simply let them learn by playing?

To spread the word about the importance of play, and to have a really good time in the process, Playdate Planet is hosting the World's Largest Playdate at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair on November 24 at 1 PM. We'll be attempting to set a Guinness World Record and having fun with the zany creators at Adventure Sandwich. Plus, the first 300 registered child participants will get to take home a toy filled tote bag. I hope I'll see you there and we will head into the holiday season playing together! 
Plan a day at ChiTAG (Nov. 23 & 24 @ Navy Pier): Purchase your discounted NPN $10 Family Pass HERE and make sure you are ready to play! (normally $30 for a family of 4!).  PLUS NPN members enjoy early 9am access both Saturday and Sunday! 






Posted on November 13, 2013 at 8:55 PM