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When Work is Fun, We Call it Play

Marcia Hart
Marcia Hart
May 16, 2022

“Play develops intelligence; integrates our triune nature[1]; prepares us for higher education, creative thought, and taking part in and upholding a social structure....[2]

Let’s be clear from the start; we are talking about creative, imaginative play that provides entertainment and enjoyment, not intense athletic contests or go-crazy in the playground activity. We need to play - we need to play to develop and grow. Unfortunately, society has done away with a lot of the play children used to enjoy, and it is becoming obvious how this lack of play has affected the development of our current intelligence and behavior.

Western man comes from a largely, puritanical tradition that values working for daily rewards. Now western man spends more and more time working, resulting in less time left for playing. As a result, work often is associated with suffering through “have-to’s” and “should’s” in our life. It takes a change of thought, a lightening up of the heart, as it were, to move from suffering to happiness. There has to be a release of the pressure that tightens us up and makes us resist enjoying what we are learning and doing. And “when work is fun, we call it play. When children are playing, they are relaxed and open to learning easily. As they become successful, new habits and attitudes can be developed.”[3]

Play and Learning

Ongoing research of neuroscientists shows that play activates the brain in meaningful ways that rote memorization, testing, worksheets, and traditional classroom techniques do not. Here is a summary of what they are finding:

“When you are engaging in play, which in and of itself is a symbolic metaphor in its truest form, whole parts of your brain are engaged, developing crucial connections that lead to a positive development of the child.

Beyond stimulating young minds to be receptive to learning, play is a necessary component of brain development for children. Not only is play an incredible source of fun and socialization, but play is also crucial to children’s learning and development. Their intellectual, physical, and social-emotional abilities emerge and are strengthened through play. It is in the context of play that a child tests out new knowledge and theories. They reenact experiences to solidify understanding. And it is how children first learn and express storytelling. And it is how children learn how to negotiate with peers, problem solve and improvise."[4]

“True Playing” is the Ability to Play with One’s Reality

Play requires imagination and the desire to “play with” our reality. “Imagination gives resiliency, flexibility, endurance, and the capacity to forego immediate reward on behalf of long-term strategies.”[5] For example, Pearce speaks of his life while growing up, when play was not as restricted as it is today. “I never knew a bored child in my own childhood. There was far too much to do, yet we had only a few toys.”[6] In contrast are today’s children, who have so many toys given to them that they never consider making their own toys or entertaining themselves with their own imagined adventures. Instead, “children are inundated with objects that don't stand for something but already are.” [7]

Imagination and Play are Key to Thinking and Learning

Without imagination, there is no development of thinking or learning because nothing is mentally generated by our sensations, and our perceptions are not processed.[8] The imagination of young children is stimulated by storytelling, taking part in “pretend” games like playing Ninjas, Princess Warriors, and all other forms of creative play. These imagination-driven activities are essential to develop the neural networks of the developing brain and the thinking of the child.

“Failing to develop imagery means having no imagination. This is far more serious than not being able to daydream. It means children grow up who can’t “see” what the mathematical symbol or the semantic words mean, or the chemical formulae, or the concept of civilization as we know it.”[9]

In fact, “no creation exists except through imagination, and also no intellect, no logic, no abstraction, no semantic language. Children growing up without developing imagery can't comprehend the subtleties of our Constitution or Bill of Rights and are seriously (and rightly) bored by abstractions of this sort. They can sense only what is immediately bombarding their physical system and are restless and ill at ease without such bombardment. Being sensory deprived, they initiate stimulus through constant movement or intensely verbal interaction with each other, which is often mistaken for precocity when actually it is a verbal hyperactivity filling the gaps of the habituated bombardments.”[10]

Notice, “words are not addendums to the perceptual text, but the principal motifs that act on and coordinate all the other parts of the play.”[11] The naming and recognition of concrete objects, like “boy” and “dog,” come from physical interaction with these objects. Abstract words also require physical interaction with them. However, this interaction must involve more than recognizing and sounding the letters of the abstract words, because the words themselves do not relate to any tangible object or feeling. In order to give abstract words meaning and a place in the child’s neural fields that will be used to process the words in the future, “the neural fields that process the event [must] lock in the name as a major ingredient of that experience.”[12] Since abstract words refer to nothing physical, their meanings must become associated in their brain with a 3-D experience that stimulates many senses in order to be recognized and understood when the words are read.

For example, Einstein's formula E=MC2 is abstract and means nothing in itself; and yet with the understanding possible through imagination and sensory experience, this formula describes a powerful relationship between all matter and all energy. “We ‘see’ what something stands for only if we can manipulate that imagery on a mental level.”[13] Remember that the mental level includes: imagination, intuition, inspiration, perceptions, rational thought, questioning, remembering and associating, and all conscious awareness.

Does this begin to help you understand why all the abstract words and symbols of reading and phonics can make it difficult for some children to learn to read? How do you learn to play or imagine the abstract word “who,” regardless of how many ways you can sound the letters w, h, o?

Movement and Play

Sitting at a desk all day is not optimal for learning. Play and movement are essential to integrate new ideas and skills.

“According to Hannaford, movement is essential for our brain’s development and our ability to learn. Learning and thinking occur when we experience new things, use our senses to investigate, and then use these experiences to better understand our world. Hannaford explains that learning requires movement because the learning process is not fully complete until thoughts are connected to a physical, personal action (like speaking, writing or drawing) that can express the new knowledge.”[14]

Personal action occurs while playing a digital game, and experiencing new things occurs while following story clues and solving challenges. And since, “Learning is not all in your head; the active, muscular, body expression of learning is an important ingredient”. It is essential to become personally and physically involved, to play the game of learning.

Play Relieves Stress; Returns the Brain to an Integrated State

Stress that creates distress derails needed brain integration that would enable optimal brain function, thinking and performance. Confusion generated in a learning activity starts to raise the stress level of the activity. If unresolved, confusion can build into frustration, anger, and even into giving up the activity.

Brain function depends on “precise synchrony and timing of all brain functions at all levels that are needed to effectively process information and make effective, timely decisions and actions.”[15] When the brain fails, thinking fails, and learning is out of the question.

Survival emotions create stress that can cause the loss of mental functions, and can make it so you cannot access key thinking pathways in a timely manner. Confusion, frustration, fear, shame, guilt, and anger, to name a few common survival emotions that can occur due to failing to learn or perform. At this time, more practice, more drilling, more lists, and worksheets can only add more stress onto the already excessively stressed state of the child. The child needs a ‘time out’, a chance to play and use internal brain activities that nourish and renew the child.

We like to destress by talking with friends about life, playing some music and dancing, or sitting in nature and being still. We all need activities that can bring us back into a state of brain integration and readiness to learn more and perform better. In Sky Village -Trail of Spells this is accomplished by distraction activities and breaks designed to relieve learning and performance stress, and to renew brain integration. The pace of the demands of Sky Village -Trail of Spells is regulated within the game by the technologies of Adaptive Content Casting and of GEM to match the speed of the player’s learning, and to reduce stress for those who need to go more slowly to learn to read.

Non-Linear Learning Occurs During Play

Non-Linear Learning can occur when imagination and entertainment are coupled. For example, children who are fans of Harry Potter books, Dr. Seuss books, or of The Velveteen Rabbit, quickly learn, without practice, without conscious memorization or drilling, the names, and details of all the characters, locations and events. This non-linear learning develops the ability to process and organize the sensory input of the child’s thinking into meaningful information.

We can all imagine ourselves in another place and time – in fact, we do it many times a day without noticing it has taken us out of the present and into the past or the future. Many of us do not pay attention to our imaging. However, imaging is the predominant substance of the thinking of the 3-D learner. The 3-D learner’s imagination automatically runs stories or movies of what they are reading, hearing, or thinking. They imagine and experience internally their thoughts and experiences, as though they are happening to them in the physical world.

The predominantly logically thinking learners think about what they experience, and often have trouble telling you what they physically are feeling in their body during an experience. They analyze, sequentially synthesize, and abstract meaning out of their thoughts about people, places, things, events, and emotions. They believe their logical thoughts are as real as their sensations. Both of these thinkers recognize the difference between what they see in their environment and what they abstract from their internal thinking and imagining experiences.

Play & Imagination – A New Paradigm in Learning to Read

The Sky Village -Trail of Spells edutainment game invites the child into a paradigm shift of having fun in order to learn to read.

The player:

  • Has the joy of an interactive experience that immerses them in taking part in adventures that stimulate the use of a combination of their senses to “play the game”;

  • Develops their thinking and problem-solving skills to play the game.

  • Keeps in motion during the game. Their motions train the brain and keep it alert.

  • Uses 3-D teaching technology and tools to learn to read more fluently with comprehension, all while having fun.

(References: Krebs, C T, 1997; Krebs, 2003, pp 36-45; Krebs, 2008. Pearce, J C, 1986. Masgutova, S, 2007; and Hannaford, C, 1995.)

Play and Learning

Sky Village -Trail of Spells is a game to be played. Along the way of solving and experiencing magical adventures, learning happens. The reading technology is embedded in the flow of the adventures and is part of playing the game. The sensory input and imagination of a player’s activity in Sky Village -Trail of Spells gives meaning to their experiences and to the words they are learning.

“When the player is given a name (a word) for an event (an experience), that name enters into the neural patterns within the player, giving rise to and shaping that event.”[16]

The dynamic that most reading programs have ignored is: A player must have and simultaneously link together in their brain the sensory (3-D) experiences of all 3 parts of a whole word or symbol, what the word LOOKS like, what the word SOUNDS like and what the word MEANS. Then, the word or symbol begins to become alive within the player. In the brain, this event, this experience, gives meaning to its label – whether it is an abstract word (e.g., me), an abstract symbol (e.g., a comma), or a concrete word (e.g., hat). Solving an adventure, discovering new lands and people in a game can open the brain to experiencing and learning new words.

“If I can keep them laughing, I can keep them working in class. Play bypasses the resistance to learning that has built up in children and creates new habits through successful experiences.”[17]

Learn to Read, so you can Read to Learn.™


Play, Brain Integration, Learning, Mind’s Eye:

Jenkins, Thomas. Conversation with a Waldorf School Teacher of 14 Years; 6-2020.

Krebs, Charles and Jenny Brown. A Revolutionary Way of Thinking. Hill of Content, Melbourne, Australia: 1998.

Krebs, C.T. Symbol and Word Recognition. Melbourne Applied Physiology, 6-25-08.

Krebs, C.T. Brain Integration 1 Manual. Melbourne Applied Physiology, 2003.

Krebs, C. T. Understanding How the Brain Works; PowerPoint slides. Lydian Center, Cambridge, MA, updated 2016.

Pearce, Joseph Chilton. Magical Child Matures. Bantam Books, New York, NY, 1986.

Pearce, J.C. Evolution’s End... Claiming the Potential of Our Intelligence. Harper, San Francisco, 1992.

Samuels, Mike, M.D. and Nancy Samuels. Seeing with the Mind’s Eye. Random House, Bookworks: 1980

The SHARE Team, Resilient The Importance of Play-Based Learning.

Movement and Learning:

Hannaford, PhD, Carla, Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not all in Your Head. 1992.; motion develops the brain and learning.

Musgatova, Svetlana. The Masgutova Method for Neurosensorimotor Integration. 2007. › the-method; neural-emotional-mental development depends on the integration of our primitive reflexes through motion.

About The Method | Masgutova Method, Dr. Masgutova, MNRI ...;

[1] The Triune Brain or triune nature is a 1960’s model of the parts of the brain labeled by 3 evolutionary layers – Reptilian, oldest and most primitive in function, like regulating breathing and balance; Mammalian, feeling and emotion-driven functions; and the most recently developed, New Brain, with its rational, objective thought, and other higher executive functions. Play helps to integrate the functions of all brain areas.

[2] J C Pearce. Evolution’s End; Play’s End Ch 1, P 164. 1992.

[3] Thomas Jenkins, Waldorf Teacher. 6-2020 conversation.

[4] The Importance of Play-Based Learning;

[5] JC Pearce, Evolutions End. p167.

[6] JCP, 1992, p168

[7] JCP, 1992, p168

[8] Krebs, C T, 1997, 2003, pp 36-45; Krebs, 2008; Pearce, CP, 1986; Masgutova, S, 2007; and Hannaford, C, 1992.

[9] JCP, 1992, p167.

[10] JCP, 1986, p140.

[11] JCP, 1992, p130.

[12] JCP, 1992, p131.

[13] JCP, 1992, p161.

[14] Carla Hannaford, 1992.

[15] Krebs, Understanding How the Brain Works, PowerPoint slideshow, 2016.

[16] JCP, 1992, p 130.

[17] Thomas Jenkins, 6-2020 conversation.

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