Play and emotions

If the prime purpose is to maintain the optimum body state for survival, any experience is approached with this pre-set programme of preferences; they are integral to the process of reasoning and decision-making. Emotional responses allow us to categorise situations we encounter and connect these responses with appropriate thoughts and actions:


Emotions and feelings have no crystal ball to see the future.

Deployed in the right context, however, they become harbingers

of what may be good or bad in the near or distant future.

(Damasio, 2003:147)

Emotions, then, may be seen as the natural medium for the brain to evaluate the environment and respond accordingly. As Damasio (2003) highlights, the complexity of the human brain not only allows for an unconscious emotional response, but enables the individual to think about emotions, to name them as feelings and to map them

for later use

(what Damasio (1994) refers to as ‘somatic markers’).

For most of our history, and indeed all of our pre-history, we have had an intimate connection with nature and the natural world and from an evolutionary perspective it would be no surprise to still find echoes of this in our behaviour

(Frumkin, 2001).

‘We come here to look for squirrels,’ Jenny said. ‘In the spring we pick bluebells – not too many though. We chase around, but not hide-and-seek, in case one of us gets lost.’ … We followed a sunken path and wandered among the trees. A few large oaks rose above multitudes of multi-stemmed elderberry bushes spaced 8–10 feet apart. Bright sunlight shafted through the amber leaves and reflected off the golden carpet of those already fallen. The effect was magical. Few words passed; they didn’t need to, the reality of the ‘real forest’ enveloped us so strongly.

(Play England, 2008)


Children’s right to play.

The right to play and informal recreation, for all children and young people up to 18 years of age, is contained in Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the child, ratified by the UK government in 1991. The government has a duty under this convention to protect and promote play opportunities for all children and young people.

What we mean by ‘play’

‘Play is what children and young people do when they follow their own ideas and interests, in their own way and for their own reasons.’

(DCMS, 2004)


For children, play is a biological drive and the primary mechanism through which they encounter and explore their immediate physical environments. Children play instinctively with natural elements; they are natural experts. As such: play is the process whereby children fulfil their drive to affiliate with nature, and natural environments provide optimal settings for children to engage and actualise their drive to play.


Young children appreciate grass, its aesthetic, its feel, smell, and function as a building material. They fight with grass and they mark out their boundaries with grass. Grass left after a mowing can transform a landscape into a new play opportunity.

(Burke, 2005:46)