top of page

Play [and how to learn lessons from otters]

So, otters play throughout their lives from pups and even into adulthood. They will play and wrestle with their young as an education to their pups but when all is well and good, their bellies are full and prey is plentiful they will all play just for fun, adults and all.

It is also thought that this play has a positive effect on their physical well being as well as their social well being and community safety and cohesion.

Initially, researchers thought that some otter behaviours were just for practical reasons and not play at all. Otters sliding down a bank for example was thought to be a common sense way to get around. However, when observed more closely a group of otters slid down a bank 16 times in less than a minute and many of them multiple times, this indicated fun not just function.

In the work that I do, play is at the top of my activity hierarchy. I am 43 and still play-a lot! The groups that I work with have maximum opportunity for play. I plan and organise sessions in a way that they are as safe as they can be, with as much freedom as possible. Often children express openly that these sessions are the only opportunity that they have for freedom. If I set a task, they are always willing and keen but still need to know when their free time is. Play is at the centre of everything I do outdoors.

This is Rudy skidding down a hill at the end of a session. On wet days or after lots of rain we leave our spot in the woods a bit earlier so that the group can do 'power slides'. On a wet day they are clad in waterproof trousers which on the wet downhill runs means they have ready made waterslides just waiting to be used. It turns the journey back to the car park, where they meet their parents, into a free fun fair. It has become a really important part of what we do, they love it!

Of course there is a lot of material and research available

exploring the importance and purpose of play. There is ample evidence to back up it's place in learning, health and social cohesion. Too often, risk or perceived risk is a justification for preventing play or micromanaging play. In this case I would suggest reading anything by Tim Gill. No Fear. Growing up in a Risk Averse Society is a good place to begin or find his website. That will sort you out!

Often a new group will need to unlearn some things before they can really play, I mean, really play. From my perspective an evolved group is always the one where play comes easily and naturally and they crave the space and freedom to play. This is strangely not always they case. Kids don't necessarily play naturally. I'm sure there are many reason for this; many may blame evolving technology, the education system, parents fears of risk, advertising and anxieties about bacteria and cleanliness and I could go on. I'm not sure it matters too much what the problem is as the solution is to get outside, get dirty take some risks and just play. In this way, adults modelling good play is really helpful. When working with a group of kids or young people, already attached to adults that supervise them, how the adults respond to play is really important. There is nothing more inspiring for an anxious child to see an adult play, take a small risk and probably fail, but then try again. Seeing adults play has become more important for children I think. A session can be made or broken by how the adults respond to play. I have experienced some disasters where either anxious or apathetic adults have inadvertently quashed a groups learning and development. It is always refreshing when you find other playful adults, they always help to move the play proceedings along and inject any session with energy and ideas. Play is a creative happening.

This is Sally and I gooning around in a game of 'Bat and Moth'. It was hilarious to the kids watching us do that in one of our sessions! I make a point of always having a go at the games or silliness that we come up with. That is actually almost a desired qualification, the ability to play. Many groups or individuals can't or won't play until they have seen what it looks like or you demonstrate that it's o.k. I am 43, not particularly fit but have learnt to roll and bounce and fall, I think they think 'well, if Nik can do it, blimey, I can do it!'

In our busy family lives, it is hard to play. Otters even, play less when food is less abundant and they are under different environmental stresses. I'm sure humans are the same. Just this Spring Holiday, spent with our good friends, we fired up the outdoor oven for a mammoth cook off that would make food to last a week or more. As I'm sure the otters would predict, with food in our bellies and more prepared for the next week or so, we played............hard!

67 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page