Play and good motor skill acquisition – part 3 – properties of play

Published on: May 28 2015 by Pieter Derycke


Play is hard to define, and still we all know what play is. In this blog, I’ll try to address some of the key properties of play. I don’t want to make it too technical or overly academic. On the contrary, I just want to point out some aspects, so we can use them later on to increase the playfulness of our motor skill acquisition, and to improve our movement facilitator skills*.


Music: Al Green: Love And Happiness.


Here we go, in no particular order:


Play is voluntary. It is spontaneous. The player has freedom to start and to stop. You cannot force someone to play.


Play is intrinsically motivated, and has no extrinsic goals. Play is process oriented. You play for the fun of it.


Play is pleasurable and enjoyable.


Play often is social, and in mixed-age groups. There is no stratification. Age, sex, and skill are mixed.


DSC057692Play has an explorative and experimental character. Playful activities explore the body, the environment, and the interactions with others. Play teaches about the world through direct experience and experimentation.


Play is never the same. Play fosters variety. Play enhances adaptability.


Play is active, it requires participation and engagement.


Play is creative, it promotes improvisation.


Play asks for attentiveness and responsiveness.


Play wants you to let go and become part. It brings you in the ‘here and now’. It creates flow. It asks total presence.


Play can be challenging, but only as challenging as the player wants it to be. There’s always the freedom to stop.


Play is bottom up. Play is emergent. Play is non-linear.


Remember that our goal is to achieve good motor skills, and that we revise play in the role of skill acquisition.


A bit later, I’ll come back to these principles and, with some practical examples, see how we can use them as skill facilitators. We can use as much of these properties and make our teachings and our therapy more playful. Not just for the fun of it (although that would be a reason that is more than good enough), but also because it will make us better teachers and therapists. Play fosters good motor skill acquisition. This is what I’ll try to show in the next blogs in this series.


I’ll elaborate on why play is so important for learning in the nexts blog, although it should suffice to know that play is the natural learning mode to start implying play properties in your movement teaching. In the mean time, you can think of how to integrate some of these in your practice.


Why don’t you play with them and see how that goes!






* I like the terms ‘movement facilitator’, because it is in essence what we should be as movement teachers. Of course, if you think about it, all good teachers facilitate learning. It makes me think of a proverb attributed to Socrates: “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” And this brings me to another favourite quote from Nassim Taleb (although he doesn’t like namedropping): “Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes a fire.”


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