Helen Hadani: The Future of Play

For Part 3 of the Voices on the Future of Childhood series, we asked experts to offer their insights and predictions on what play will—or better yet, should—look like when families are released from isolation. 

The power of play when we need it most

Helen HadaniHelen Shwe Hadani, PhD, is a fellow in Global Economy and Development and the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.

Many weeks ago, I saw something that took my breath away—hazard tape around play structures in parks. I started to wonder how play might change with school closures and social distancing dramatically changing children’s familiar routines and safe spaces.

In the weeks that followed, I started seeing social media posts from parents and teachers about new games (e.g., social-distancing tag where you tag another child’s shadow) and epic Rube Goldberg machines that families are building and playing with together. While play is happening in different spaces and with different people, children are finding ways to have fun without access to their usual play structures or play dates. Kids are making it up as they go—that’s the secret sauce. In many ways, children’s play is becoming more creative. Parents may be surprised to see their children express their imagination when they have been staring at the same four walls for weeks. Boredom sparks creativity.

Play is how we form relationships, build core cognitive and social skills, and reduce stress—all critical for healthy development, but especially now when families are stretched to the limit and our world is filled with uncertainty. To borrow a quote from one of my research mentors Alison Gopnik, “The gift of play is how it teaches us to deal with the unexpected.” Amidst the chaos, play is a constant that can help children (and adults) navigate our way through the current crisis and hopefully come out stronger and more creative on the other side.



See more posts in this series:

Voices on the Future of Childhood

Bo Stjerne Thomsen | Helen Hadani | Jill Vialet | Kathy Hirsh-Pasek | Kathryn E. Ringland |
Makeda Mays Green | Roger Hart | Ronda Jackson | Rosanna Lopez

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