Lifestyle Before Medication

A pharmacist's perspective on health and metabolic disease

The benefits of “messy play”

There was a really memorable Saturday afternoon last year when I was working in an After-hours pharmacy. Four children, aged between 8-12 years came in within about two hours. Each had minor to moderate injuries after having fallen out of tree.  (No – they hadn’t all fallen out of the same tree together!)   Their parent’s attitudes ranged from “It’s part of growing up” to concern that they had been in the tree at all.

The children’s attitudes towards their injuries was also interesting.   These children all felt that they had learned something from the tree climbing and would keep climbing (parent permitting) but would try and avoid being injured the next time.   This seems like a healthy attitude to learning to me. The Engineer and I refer to it as “experiential learning” and maybe it is better for children to learn about risk taking and consequences when they are ten and playing on their bikes, rather than when they are 17 and behind the wheel of a car.

But it is also interesting to contrast the tree-climbing children with other sports related injuries that I also see.   Rugby and league injuries are also very common in season. Here, some of these injuries, concussions especially, are almost seemed as a “badge-of-honour” as it showed that they had tried hard, especially if the injury was sustained tackling a bigger person. I’m not sure if there are any good life-long lessons though from these injuries as the children don’t seem to be thinking ahead as to how to avoid a subsequent injury.

Messy play like playing in mud, climbing trees and riding bikes is believed to encourage creativity, resilience and mental toughness. So it was a bit concerning to read in that Kiwi kids lack ‘real play’ time. According to this AUT study, less than 6% of New Zealand children regularly have messy play. This is despite 94% of parents believing messy play is a good idea but don’t encourage it because they feel pressured by other parts of society.

Over in Wales, there is a different approach. Called “The Land” it is a piece of wasteland where messy play is encouraged. There is a fire-pit, a pond, lots of trees and lots of other structures, like old tires, mattresses and wooden pallets. The landscape changes on a daily basis – limited only by the children’s imagination and self-determined social boundaries. No parents are allowed, but there are some adult “playworkers” who “loiter with intent”.  Despite all the tree-climbing, fire-lighting, rope swinging, there are remarkably few injuries, apart from the odd scraped knee. At the same time, children learn about many risks in a semi-controlled environment – either on their own, or from their peers. This can be a thrilling experience for many children as they learn to explore and conquer new skills.

Are we stifling creativity and opportunities by nor allowing free-play? Think about what you did growing up and how it influenced you. What were some of your favourite messy play moments?

I can remember climbing lots of trees in our garden at home. My parents had a few rules (not always followed) as to which trees we could or could not climb.

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This entry was posted on November 5, 2015 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .
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