Making space for play

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Professor Cathy Nutbrown shows why, in the words of Comenius and Confucius, 'it is better to play than do nothing'.


IThe 17th-century cleric and educator Jan Amos Komensky, known to many as Comenius, took a great interest in the early years of a child's education and in particular, education by mothers within the home. He believed that teachers should understand how a child's mind develops and that all children should receive the same education, whatever their gender and social class - quite a revolutionary idea in the mid 1600s. Comenius promoted education that was 'thorough, natural and enjoyable' and opposed rote learning. He wrote Ten Commandments for a Happy Life, which includes the advice, echoing the words of Confucius, 'Appreciate time and use it well...It is better to play than do nothing'.

Children know this - they somehow know that play is their lifeblood. In the recent spell of hot weather and sunshine, the fountains in Sheffield city centre have been filled with young children, and their adults, dancing, running and squealing with delight.

In the heat of a city centre, these children showed the many passers-by that it was indeed better to play in and out of the cooling dancing water than to do nothing in the heat. Given time, space and opportunity, children play.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child established in 1989, is an international convention listing 54 Articles of rights designed to prevent illness and neglect; provide education; protect from abuse and exploitation; and ensure children's participation in decisions that affect them.

At the beginning of this century, a Save the Children study of young children's rights examined children's involvement in decisions that affected them and showed how children's contributions were often unrecognised by adults and how many adults denied children basic freedoms to, for example, be with friends and play in the park. And this remains the case, where many children lack opportunities to play freely. Sometimes play in early years settings is so strongly adult controlled that it can hardly be called 'play' at all, and some children don't have opportunities to play outdoors when at home. But during these summer months it is important to remember that 'it's better to play' and adults working and living with young children need to do all they can to make space for play - whatever the weather!.

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