Monday, 2 July 2012

Nannies - they just play with kids!

I have often heard people say that nannies don't really work, they just play with kids.  A double put down, both of nannies and of the importance of play.

In earlier posts, I have made clear my view that good, professional nannies work hard.  Their role is diverse as they care for children, guide their development and behaviour, keep them 'fed and watered' and give them emotional security in the absence of their parents.

Today though, I want to look at the other area: 'play'.

The Oxford Dictionary Online defines the verb to play as to 'engage in activity for enjoyment or recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.'  As early childhood workers though, we know that for children, play is far more than this.  As Jean Piaget said, 'Play is the work of childhood.'

It is through play that children learn. This is recognised as by the central importance of play in the Early Years Learning Framework.

A baby is playing with a rattle in her highchair drops the rattle and learns:
  • about her physical world: gravity, spatial awareness (up and down), sound.
  • about her social world: consequences (frustration with no toy), relationships when someone picks up the toy, fun (when dropping the rattle becomes a game with the person picking it up)
An infant is painting a picture.  His red paint line goes over the blue one and a different colour is seen. He learns the outcome of mixing pigments.

A child is balancing on a log with a parent's steadying hand and lets go.  She teeters but maintains balance, learning the use of muscles, eyes and vestibular organ while doing so.  Edges along the log, nearly slips but is steadied by the parent....still learning all the skills required for balance, learning again the reassurance of a parent's presence and the joy of being able to do things herself.

One big boy and one little girl on a see-saw...learn informally about forces and physics without knowing, as they do when they learn to 'work' the swing by themselves.

During these early years, play is the means of learning about themselves and their physical and social environments.  It is for this reason that children need a range of play experiences.  Just as we give babies toys with different textures and colours, so we need to give children indoor and outdoor experiences, alone and with others, with a range of substances and with some freedom to use materials unconventionally and creatively.    Experiences need to grow with the child so that they gradually learn more complex skills and face new challenges. Thus the body and mind are prepared for later more formal learning activities, and more organised play.

Play, however, does not end with childhood, but it does change form and starts to align more with the Oxford Dictionary definition.  Adult play is often in the form of hobbies, catching up with friends, outdoor activities like jogging, cycling, camping and bushwalking, although I hesitate to include sporting activities that are more competitive in nature.

Playfulness too, is the source of much fun and creativity.  The art of Mirka Mora and Michael Leunig demonstrate this combination.  Word plays and humour, particularly that which reflects joyfully on the quirks of human nature rather than that with a more political intent are also examples of playfulness.  And who does not enjoy a gathering of friends and family overflowing with love and good humour.

The 'Eight Hour Movement' of the Nineteenth Century was about what is now known as work-life balance: eight hours work, eight hours rest and eight  hours recreation.  That is still a good rule!

So yes, nannies do play with children, but in that process are preparing them for life.

For those looking to further explore play, there are many excellent websites relating to children.
Among others I would suggest;
Let the Children Play
Free Range Kids
Childhood 101
DEEWR Early Years Framework
Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority 


  1. This is one of my favourite quotes about play:

    “If animals play, this is because play is useful in the struggle for survival; because play practices and so perfects the skills needed in adult life” Susanna Miller

    1. Brilliant quote because by looking at play in animals we get right away from how our human minds 'censor' actions and activities.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. When I wrote this piece about play I was writing from my own experience, and not as one with any formal study of play. Since then, in my web trawling, I've discovered another excellent site about play by Morgan Leichter-Saxby who has developed some authority and works as both an academic who likes 'to get her hands dirty' in practice.

      As well as her won blog she has links with many other sites: a positive goldnmine of play, and not just for children! Play Everything