PLAY WELL explores play as a transformative tool, tracing the history of play through toys, games and artwork from the mid-1800s to the present. Considering play - or the lack of play and determination to push kids into academic life from an increasingly younger age - is frustrating many parents, this subject couldn't be more topical, especially as we consider the many benefits of play for kids in encouraging creativity and imagination, supporting social skills and teamwork and the role of play in both emotional and physical well-being.
The exhibition is divided up into three sections: Nature/Nurture looks at how critical play is in child development and education, and how play can be used as a therapy tool, highlighting philosophers and educators like Jean Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Froebel and Margaret McMillan, who advocated learning through play. This section will also explore the pivotal role that play can have in fostering emotional security in conflict zones like the Ukraine or Rohingya refugee camps.
Toys Like Us introduces a variety of toys into the exhibition, from LEGO through the years to how simple sticks and blocks can take on magical transformative powers thanks to a child's imagination. This section also focuses on how toys can challenge stereotypes and how toys influence how children behave in the playground (yes, Fortnite is most likely responsible for your child's dance moves).
Credit: Mark Neville, ‘The Frog Pond at Toffee Park Adventure Playground, London, 2’, 2016
The final section, Rules and Risk, is an investigation into how play has been policed, limited and supervised, with photography from Bert Hardy, Nigel Henderson and Shirley Baker showing post-war British kids' commanding presence on the streets (unencumbered by the watchful eyes of helicopter parents). This section also looks at the rise and integration of playgrounds in urban landscapes - combining nature and safety - and the opportunities and risks associated with gaming and digital play.
The exhibition also uses feedback from Wellcome Collection's RawMinds programme of 14-19-year-olds who talk about loneliness, commerce and teamwork in the digital sphere (RawMinds members meet weekends, evenings and in the school holidays to discuss science and art).
Don't worry, adults have a chance to play, too: artist Adam James examines how play is relevant to adults and can enhance their social lives through LARP (live-action role play), where participants create their own fictionalised story to act out. Look out for a play space in the gallery's centre where visitors can try their own LARP.
This exhibition will certainly provide food for thought for the whole family. But instead of discussing it, we think we'll just let the kids play this once.
|What||PLAY WELL, Wellcome Collection|
|Where||The Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London , NW1 2BE | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Euston Square (underground)|
24 Oct 19 – 08 Mar 20, various
|Website||Click here for more information|