Yes. But first we need a little bit of science.
Human brains are designed to adapt. This occurs throughout our lives but adaptation is most prominent during childhood. We now know the following about children’s brain development:
- From conception to birth the brain cells multiply and migrate to the places the genes suggest they should. Connections between brain cells are created as genetic and environmental learning begins in utero.
- From birth through the early years the brain cells connect up influenced by their genes and, increasingly, by the environment in which the children find themselves. Throughout childhood foundation connections are utilised over and over again, stimulating the production of myelin. Myelination is the process that protects and speeds up the firing of these repeatedly-used connections. So, the environment is influencing the layout of each child’s brain as it adapts to what happens to and around them, most of the time.
- During the teenage years the brain consolidates the learning of childhood. The brain retains those connections that it deems to be of most use, these are the ones that have been used the most. These myelinated connections can be considered to be “hard wired” as they will likely remain with us through our adult lives.
Therefore whatever is happening most of the time around children is influencing how their brain will be structured throughout adulthood. Every experience and interaction children have contributes to this adaptation process of their brain, thereby making a difference to how the children will think, feel and act throughout the rest of their lives.
Next consider play. A child’s play is their work – what they are intended to do each day. As we’ve seen above, a child’s brain adapts to everything they do and experience, and this adapted brain has a ripple effect out into the world. Therefore child’s play has the potential to change the world.
We have a notion in our society that “child’s play” is easy, simple, without purpose and it is considered to be unimportant. However nature has a clear purpose for “child’s play.” That is for children to adapt to their environment, to wire up their brains to define how they will view themselves, others and the world, how they will think, feel and act. When we understand the adaptability of children’s brains we can appreciate that “child’s play” is anything but unimportant. Since every experience children have has the potential to change the world. They’re not just having fun. They’re adapting their brains in relation to their experiences and this will impact on the future of everyone and everything they later come into contact with. That’s a pretty important purpose!
The ideas for experiences in my new book “Changing the world is child’s play” are easy and simple. However they are also purposeful and important – just as I believe “child’s play” needs to be viewed. I am interested in raising the profile of “child’s play” and the potential impact of children’s experiences on the future world. I also wish to expand our society’s appreciation of what “child’s play” really means.
The inspirations, the invitations for action, in this book are about being conscious of the sorts of experiences children around us are having. Our goal is not just about having fun – though having fun helps our brains learn more effectively. Our goal is to provide easy, simple experiences with an important, positive, future purpose, such that changing the world really can be “child’s play.”
Changing the world is child’s play. By Sarah Amy Glensor Best.
To be published by Ako Books (www.akobooks.co.nz) in early 2015.