At this year’s Idea Festival the Children at Play Network hosted a keynote lecture by Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life. In addition, the CAPN set up a large tent outside the main festival site where we encouraged participants to engage in free play.
We provided hundreds of boxes, tape, rope, string, tarps, chalk, and loose parts and then invited people to play as they pleased. It was an experiment in what might happen if we hosted a free play event at a festival dedicated to the exploration of ideas that can change the world. We learned a great deal about how adults interact within a free play environment.
On the first day of the festival the play was characterized as free for all play. I think the sheer number of boxes overwhelmed people and the stacks of boxes were quickly transformed into a huge box fort by teams of high school students attending Idea Festival. The fort grew throughout the day until a late attending group of teens had their fun by jumping into the massive box accretion and collapsing it.
On the second day of the festival a number of people spontaneously engaged with each other to create a cardboard tree from the collapsed boxes from the previous day. You can see some of that in the photos below. Out of that exploration we discussed the idea of using boxes to build a tree as a sort of adult team building exercise. We may explore that idea soon. So…dibs on that.
The highlight of our Idea Festival exploration was definitely the lunchtime talk by Dr. Peter Gray. In a lightning fast 45 minutes Peter helped the audience understand the evolutionary underpinnings of play and why play is so vital to human development. He connected the gradual loss of free play with a rise in mental disorders such as anxiety, depression and a sense of helplessness. Our future may indeed be healthier if it is also more playful. You can access the lecture notes for Dr. Gray’s lecture, Unleashing the Power of Play here or on our resource page.
Here are some pictures from the two days of the Children at Play Network at Idea Festival