Play – The Very Essence of a Child’s Being

Play – The Very Essence of a Child’s Being

Jeanette Primost, Representative of the International Foundation

Of Brain Gym® International

In 1998, I had the good fortune to take part in an Edu-K International Gathering in Canada at which the world-renowned author and lecturer Joseph Chilton Pearce was the keynote speaker. I was fascinated by the information that Dr. Pearce conveyed, especially when he said that a baby requires three things to grow up as a happy, balanced human being: nourishment, audio-visual communication, and play.

As a person who has worked for many years with children of different ages on our communal settlement, later as a professional Educational Kinesiologist and Classical Homeopath and as a mother and grandmother, I had experience of the importance of the   first two subjects. It was the third requirement—play—that particularly caught my attention. At that time, I had already created a program incorporating Brain Gym in which I outline the importance of play. I call this program “The Playful Child.”

The encounter with Dr. Pearce broadened my understanding and supported me in formulating for my work with children the following definition of authentic play:

Play needs to allow for movement, engage the senses,

lead to creativity, and develop the imagination.

Allowing for Movement

As the American educator Paul Dennison first stated many years ago, movement is the door to learning. Today the truth of this statement is becoming ever more obvious, and yet much of the contemporary educational system has yet to catch on to it. The importance of movement, especially outdoors in nature, cannot be overemphasized. Children need to be given the opportunity to skip, hop, jump, climb, run, walk, and move to their heart’s content. As Dr. Carla Hannaford states in her book Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head, “Physical movement, from earliest infancy and throughout our lives, plays an important role in the creation of nerve cell networks, which are actually the essence of learning.”

A child’s first seven years of life are vitally important. This is the time when the brain stem is being developed and the child is finding his place in the physical world. The brain stem, formerly known as the back brain or hind brain, is the survival brain. Throughout life, an individual’s feeling of inner security depends on how this area of the brain developed. This is why it’s so important for parents and educators to know that movement is one of the main requirements for the development of a healthy brain stem.

Engaging the Senses

Through their senses, children absorb the world as well as getting to know themselves. So, the more developed and balanced their sensory functioning, the greater their understanding and knowledge of themselves and the world. Naturally, the whole brain is involved when children play. Yet it is advisable to give all children, and especially those who are not yet seven, rich activities that are in harmony with the character of the right hemisphere, which governs emotions, movement, imagination, intuition, image, and rhythm.

What I want to emphasize is that these activities should be a large part of the child’s world, not just something they do occasionally. My own childhood was filled with such experiences as blowing soap bubbles when washing the clothes (there were no washing machines), growing potatoes and strawberries, shelling peas after we picked them from the garden, running and climbing over rocks by the sea, and playacting while dressed in my mother’s wardrobe. I loved forming mud pies with a little water and earth from the garden, banging on pots and pans to make music, and experiencing a whole new world through storytelling.

I know that I was fortunate to have such rich experiences of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling, and moving in the world around me. I am so thankful that we had no television or electronic toys at that time, for these dull the brain and are the antithesis of authentic play. In Joseph Chilton Pearce’s book Evolution’s End: Claiming the Potential of Our Intelligence, the author has included fascinating scientific explanations about the negative effects of television on young people.

The Importance of Boredom

The quality known as creativity is widely spoken of and written about, and its importance well understood. Yet I would like to approach the topic here from a different point of view: through understanding the importance of boredom.

In order to allow our children to achieve authentic play, which is based on creativity, I encourage adults to have the courage to let their child reach a state of boredom. Although boredom is an uncomfortable feeling and one that we all seek to avoid, nevertheless, from boredom springs creativity.

A child who is feeling bored will look for something to interest her, and this is an opportunity to suggest (or guide her to) an enriching activity such as painting a picture, reading a story, baking a cake, or going for a walk. If we allow a bored child, either by our encouragement or by our passive acceptance, to turn on the TV, go to the computer, play with an electronic toy, or open the refrigerator, we are doing her a disservice, because we are then enabling her to get a quick fix for her boredom. In this way we are actually depriving the child, with her naturally inquisitive nature, of the satisfaction of discovering creative solutions for her boredom.

Developing the Imagination

Movement, creativity, and enrichment of the senses all support the development of imagination, which is of vital importance for the functioning of the higher brain and the ability to analyze, synthesize, and do abstract thinking.

Many years ago, Dr. Pearce told of some research done in prisons. A common attribute, he said, among those prisoners who were aggressive was that they had an impaired ability to imagine. Therefore they reacted violently—as if they were in danger—to even very small upsets. For example, if an adult is insulted, one extreme reaction may be verbal or physical abuse, an exaggerated brain-stem reaction. Or the response may be one of anger, sadness, a forlorn feeling, or a depressed state—reactions of the emotional limbic brain.

A more positive and productive possibility is for the individual to access the frontal lobes—the higher brain—as (despite being hurt, upset, and angry) he asks himself, Did I trigger that by what I said? or Is he having a bad day today? or I don’t know what happened, but how can I clear it up?

If we manage to develop a balanced brain stem during our first seven years, we will know when we are in true danger and will have the ability to get out of it. Thus we will not turn from “mice” into “lions” when our fight-or-flight reaction is triggered.

How Adults Can Support Children in Their Development

Within this vast subject of child development, one important question to ask is this: In what way can we support ourselves so that we can support children?

My understanding is that, whenever we spend time with a child who is in the formative years leading up to age seven—even if we only say hello—we affect that child, for better or worse, in a meaningful way. If this is true, and I do believe it to be so, then think of the hours upon hours we spend with our children, or with other people’s children. How balanced are we, and what messages do we impart to them? Children can be wonderful teachers to us, for if we are willing to observe and take in the lessons, we can gauge the effects of our interactions with them through their reactions.

In daily life, we continuously go in and out of balance. The ability to notice these fluctuations and to support ourselves in maintaining an overall balanced state by using good tools (an excellent one being Brain Gym®, which I have used for the past twenty years), is what gives us an optimal life experience. Our state of balance affects our judgments, relationships, and day-to-day involvement in life. Our deeper feelings about ourselves are what we put out into the world, and others, especially very young children, relate and react to our state.

For example, here is a story from one of the first Brain Gym 101 courses I taught, many years ago. The class was going well, and it came time to demonstrate the Positive Attitudes Balance*. After my brief explanation of the balance, a young woman jumped up and said she wanted me to balance her. She told us that she had a three-year-old daughter who, when sitting on her lap, often wet her pants (and, of course, also wet her mother). If she were sitting alone, she would wet the couch. The young mother said that she would react with anger and frustration, followed immediately by guilt.

Of course this woman wanted her child to stop peeing on her. After I explained that we can only balance for our own goals, she took responsibility for her own reaction and balanced for that. The following week, she returned to tell us all that her daughter had stopped peeing on her, and gave us the further good news that her little girl had started to use the toilet.

Twelve years later, I chanced to meet this woman. I asked her how her daughter was doing, reminding her of the balance she’d experienced many years previously. The woman had never forgotten the balance, and was bowled over that I remembered her. As we parted, she said her daughter was doing well in high school and that their relationship was great. Thinking of the hours of anger, frustration, and guilt that the mother must have previously experienced every day, I pondered over what had turned that situation around, marveling that a single Brain Gym balance had given such wonderful results so quickly.

Today, after many balances and many such amazing results, I’m still subject to that wonderment as to what really happens in a balance involving a parent who has concerns about a child. It appears to me that, during such a balance, a pattern of reaction is released. The child, in his deep knowing, can sense that and therefore can also release his own pattern and move forward in his development.

I do know that intention—in this instance, evidenced by the mother’s willingness to balance for her reaction—combined with observation, a willingness to stop and look at what is going on, and the use of Brain Gym movements, has the power to enable us to educate ourselves, let go of old patterns, and therefore become more balanced.

The aim of this article is to awaken in readers the importance of giving children plenty of opportunity to play, so that they can achieve their personal aims when they reach adulthood. Brain Gym is a fabulous way to encourage play. In his book Brain Gym and Me: Reclaiming the Pleasure of Learning, Paul Dennison states, “Brain Gym frees us to play; it helps us leave the competitive fight-or-flight state and return to a sense of connectedness and homeostasis.”

It is not easy to understand the complicated workings of human beings, so as parents and educators (I refer to “educators” in a broad sense; it might be an aunt, an older sibling, or a next-door neighbor) we can always use good guidelines. If we want to give children what they really need in order to develop fully, nutrition, audio-visual communication, and authentic play are the most important basics. As an analogy, if a seed is planted in fertile ground and has the water and sunshine it needs, then almost nothing can prevent it from growing healthily into what it was meant to be.

Let’s bring the importance of authentic play back into our hearts and awareness, so that play can resume its rightful legacy of our children.


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