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Stuart Lester

Tell me a little bit about what you do?

I am not comfortable with the phase ‘play industry’, because that implies is a commercial thing and that is not my background, but it has become quite common to talk about the play industry.

I am currently a senior lecturer at the University of Gloustershire on their play and play work degree and postgraduate programmes and I am also a freelance researcher and consultancy trainer.

I have a background working on adventure playground in Manchester and got in to training and I’ve stayed with it ever since. I spent all my life with play but I haven’t learnt anything.


How does play inform and relate to creativity in Children and Adults?

Play and creativity I think are synonymous because playing is a creative process full stop. Play is rarely used as a word on its own, its always used for something else. So Play and creativity, play and learning, play and development, play and exercise; this has nothing to do with childrens play, it is more about adults and the changing nature of childhood. There is more and more pressure on Children to achieve and part of the way of adults making sure children achieve is to use any instrument as possible to help children learn. Play becomes an instrument as a tool which adult believe helps children learn.


Do you think that play should just simply be play?

Play can’t be anything else but the very nature of what is it is. It is a formal behaviour that evolves from millions and millions years ago. Because of this one would imagine play serves some evolutionary purpose; if it didn’t we wouldn’t play - It w ould have been wiped out, I mean at some point in our evolution we had tails and we walked on all fours. As we adapted to the environment we changed, but we still play. Then certainly play has some fundamental purpose as play not as anything else? But we are very good at wanting to make it to do something else. The minute you do that, you stop it from being play.

The problem is kids do want to be outside, but their parents wont let them, so virtual play is the next best thing for them.


What is the function of play? Do you believe that play is functionalor not?

I think there is a value to play but it is not the one that most adults attribute to playing. If you look at traditional studies and the way the disciplines have looked at children’s play, they take quite a lot in animal studies. Traditionally they will look at animal play and they will then do their observation and then infer from that, that animals play to learn skills, some young animals will rough and tumble play and by doing that they are learning skills to how to avoid becoming pray, and how to pray on other animals.Sociologists traditionally have said play is a way about learning norms, and rules and customs so children learn how to share and how to co-operate and how to follow moral codes. Psychologists will say play is about learning cooperative skills; problem solving.


‘Play for a Change’ How do you feel about this statement?

We have been asked to look at the most recent research on children’s play globally, we probably looked at about 800 pieces of research and we found nothing to support play and learning, play and schools. Traditionally play is not been about something taught for benefit, the benefit of play happens outside of play. You learn to be able to be use skills later in life, or learn how to cross the road or learn how to make friends.


What is it about play? Why is it there? Can it be used to solveproblems within society?

What happened over the last 10 years particularly across the disciplines is that people now start to focus on what the immediate benefits of play are. What is happening to anybody (children and adults) while they are playing, not afterwards but while they are playing? Play has benefit for the time of playing, which only happens because it is play. So we start to think about the things which distinguish play from other forms of behaviour.


What do you think the benefits of play are?

When we came to looking at play, we didn’t define play. I think play is beyond definition. I think it is so illusive and because we are adults we need to be conscious anyway. Sutton Smith said that when it comes to defining play in adults we fall into silliness,

They have forgotten. Defining it imposes an adult view on children and their play, which it might be dangerous because you will never know what children are doing and what they are getting from play but let’s just be happy with that.

So the child can be in a playground, take the coat off, put it round thier neck, flap their arms and they are flying. Gravity said no, biologically said ‘I am flying’, to all intense and purposes is flying in that particular moment, but knows that they are not flying. So it is this paradox of real and unreal. There is a lucky phase that we pinched which called being in Control and being out of control.


There is a guy called Stuart Brown who talks alot about how play could be functional, what is your response to him?

Sutton-Smith said Play is no guarantee of anything. Probably the one thing that playing does is first of all gives you a great satisfaction of being alive, and is that not worth it for its own sake? And it probably makes you a better player because the people who play want to play more and if you play more you become better at playing. I could spot kids that probably didnt have a very playful childhood by the way they are with their friends and how they use power to dominate, with no give and take. Understanding the ability to tune emotions and empathy, leads us into this whole being in control or being out of control. Play through its ability to create is the generation of uncertainty, you are creating uncertainty. So when kids spin around, making themselves dizzy, that is a classic example of playing with uncertainty, they are in control so they don’t spin themselves to unconsciousness, they stop to regain balance and they carry on. This ability to put yourself in situations Of moderate stress is hugely beneficial. The two features of that stress is firstly, that your are in control of it. Now that might be collective control it’s not personal control and it’s desirable, you actually want to be in this situation. Play provides the conditions to control the stress. Which will results in their tolerance of stress being far greater than those who didn’t play alot.

Stress is just another word for uncertainty. The thing that scares you is that uncertainty is happening externally rather than internally. When children read horror stories, some children will be scared because they see it as external. Scientifically that would suggest that a neuron chemical reaction is happening in taking yourself to that position and the main neuron chemical in that equation is Cortisone. What cortisone does is it focuses you, makes your body adjust to stress and not get overwhelmed by it. Short burst of cortisone are highly beneficial. Long burst however are damaging, so when kids are under profound stress which is prolonged it will have a big impact. When that happens when kids play it prepares the ground for real stress, so when they are in stressful situations they already have something in place biologically to be able to cope with it. Kids who are always being told “don’t do that” almost have an aversion to uncertainty.