Educational Psychologist Dr Dan O’Hare talks to us about promoting children’s wellbeing during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Dan talks to us about the importance of play and creativity, and tackling boredom in these difficult times.
It’s a time of uncertainty right now with children and families experiencing higher levels of stress, while other children may be feeling happier and more relaxed than they have for a while.
Play is perhaps one of the most important aspects of children’s lives. When I meet children in schools and ask ‘what’s your favourite thing to do in school?’ many of them enthusiastically reply ‘play!’.
There is of course variation in these answers. Some children say that they prefer to play with others, and some prefer play and games that are more solitary. It’s good news for us adults then that play is fundamental to children’s wellbeing and development.
Last year the Division of Educational and Child Psychology released a position paper on children’s right to play. The paper describes a number of benefits of play including promoting learning, problem-solving, adapting to challenge, learning to manage a range of feelings and developing social skills.
It’s important to note that play isn’t just a means to an end, it has intrinsic value for children – it’s important because children enjoy it.
There can sometimes be a tendency for adults to think that they have to structure play for children e.g. with rules, toys, games. These sorts of experiences are important, but research has also demonstrated the importance of unstructured, child-led play.
Children’s imaginations can be endless and sometimes their play might not make sense to us as adults but make believe, silly play, messy play, rough play, role play… these are all resiliency building experiences for children.
Play can also lead to creativity. It is fascinating to watch what a child can do with an old newspaper, sticky tape and pencils. Making time for creativity is important when we have long stretches of being at home.
Children love to learn, create, test their ideas, build, knock down and build again. Left with some basic materials the very experience of creating something can be hugely rewarding for child – the experience of making something original, unique and truly theirs.
With the ubiquitous nature of modern technology, it’s now easier than ever for children to have something to do all the time.
Similarly, several of the schools I work with have had parents/carers worrying about keeping their children occupied at all times. Not only is this incredibly stressful for parents/carers, it’s an approach that doesn’t necessarily recognise the importance of boredom.
These days boredom seems to have a negative rap – something to be avoided and an experience associated with unhappiness or unfulfillment.
I remember the long stretches of the 6-week summer holiday when I was younger and the sense of boredom was strong. At those times however I also remember gazing out the window making up stories about the people walking past, imagining huge sky battles between the crows and pigeons, making up silly songs and inevitably finding ‘something to do’.
Boredom is associated with problem-solving, creativity and imagination. In this contemporary world of constant go, boredom also gives children and young people the opportunity to stop, look, listen, observe and notice – an experience that sounds similar to one of mindfulness – paying attention to the present moment.
Dr Dan O’Hare is Educational psychologist and lecturer at the University of Bristol, UK, joint chair-elect of the Division of Educational and Child Psychology (part of the British Psychological Society).
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