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Theoretical Framework


There is now a body of work that confirms the pivotal role of play in the healthy development of children. It is the context in which the brain grows, especially in the early years when the right hemisphere of the brain is in rapid development. The right hemisphere requires experiences, not information to grow, and so play is what children need most in order to develop a brain that can later be used for “higher learning”. 

The erosion of play time has been documented. Concurrently it has been noted that there is a significant increase in the diagnoses of mental health disorders and ADHD. Many are concluding that there is a link between the two.

This is because play also provides an outlet for the expression of emotion. Emotional health is all about emotional movement. In play, pictures are drawn, stories are enacted and re-enacted, fears are given form, frustration is vented, and games are engaged in to allow emotions to come out.


Re-Think Play Series

Hannah Beach and Tamara Strijack

Play has been deeply misunderstood, and even more so, undervalued. Play is not an ‘extra’ and it is so much more than toys. Play has given us a natural way to heal from trauma, to recover emotional health, to build community, and to take in and digest the world around us. In addition to all of this, play can provide the space for discovering the gorgeous possibilities we hold within us. Join us as we embark on an exploration of PLAY– what it is and what it isn’t.

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WEBINAR: Why Play Matters 

Eva de Gosztonyi

Why do children play and why do they need to play? We are now learning that play is more important than we ever thought both in terms of brain development and also for emotional well-being. Join us to find out about why play is so important, about different kinds of play and about how you can support your playful child.

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Webinar: The Power of Play to Take Care of Us 

Deborah MacNamara

In this webinar, Neufeld Institute faculty member Deborah MacNamara PhD talks about why play--for children and adults alike--is critical to our survival in times of stress. Dr. MacNamara explores why it is in our nature to play, how play can heal and restore us, and why we will need to lean on play more than ever in the days and weeks to come.

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Webinar: Creating Playgrounds for Emotional Expression

Tamara Strijack and Hannah Beach

When emotions stop moving, we start to see the signs of problem behaviour. Expression of emotion is the first step in emotional development, and yet many children, adolescents and adults can get stuck here. We all need safe places to express the emotions that are stirred up within us, as well as release pent up emotional energy. The challenge is finding those safe places. In this session, we will explore natural playgrounds for emotion to come out and play, and how we might facilitate this process - for our children, our adolescents and ourselves.

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Interview: Dr Gordon Neufeld on the topic of Play

Dr Gordon Neufeld

"Play – at least the kind that builds brains, forwards development, and serves our emotions – is becoming an endangered activity among those who need to engage in it most and this includes us as adults. The science of play reveals the mind of Nature and gets to the very heart of the developmental approach." Dr. Neufeld

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True Play: Why Kids Need Play Sanctuaries for Their Emotions

Deborah MacNamara

Play is not urgent. It will not wake a child up in the middle of the night like a bad dream or a bladder in need of release. Play isn’t something that hijacks a child’s attention like an empty stomach in need of food or an injury in need of first aid. While the instinct to play is inherent to all mammal species, it isn’t bossy nor does it demand the space it requires.


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Resisting the Pressure to Make Play ‘Productive’

Hannah Beach

It’s Spring break and my son has two glorious weeks off of school. It’s been interesting for me to witness how our current culture’s values of ‘production and outcomes’ crept up on me. I have found myself having to be grounded again in what I know to be true: free play matters. It’s absolutely essential to emotional health and well-being.


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Adding the Wisdom of Play to the Wisdom of Trauma

Tamara Strijack

The world can be an alarming place. Difficult things happen that are out of our control. And yet, it is not about the trauma itself–what happens or doesn’t happen to us or around us– but what happens inside of us as a result. And about who is, or isn’t, present with us in our pain.  (...) Enter play. Play gives us a way through. It slips past our defences and says: We can do this. I am with you. You are not alone. Play can make it possible to touch on those feelings that seem impossible to bear in “the real world”.


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Why We Can’t Let Play Disappear from Children’s Lives

Mona Delahooke

An essential ingredient has been slowly disappearing from children’s lives: free, spontaneous play. Many factors have converged to cause the decline of play. Technology absorbs more and more of children’s attention. Schools pile on academic pressures earlier and earlier. And parents are increasingly opting to place their children in structured extracurricular activities.


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The Incredible Power of Play

Colleen Beck, The OT Toolbox

Play is the essence of childhood and it’s the means for children to develop and grow! The incredible power of play is a tool and a means to children development. It’s through play that kids learn. Kids delight in games, toys, and creative play while developing skills like fine and gross motor development. They learn to self-regulate. They learn to communicate, manage their emotions, and gain valuable sensory input. Play is powerful for kids!


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Using Art to Boost Students’ Social Skills

Melissa Collins - Edutopia

While going through the National Board process in 2006, I discovered the power of integrating art into the classroom. Since then, I have gone out of my way to provide students with opportunities to explore various forms of art using an interdisciplinary approach. Today, art is the cornerstone of my second-grade classroom, and I have watched many students soar academically when given the freedom to thrive and lead in a safe and productive environment through art exploration.


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