Play to learn
Dictionary of the Real Academia Española of the Spanish Language: Jugar. From the Latin, iocari. To do something joyfully in order to amuse oneself, to have fun while developing certain skills.
The history of games and toys forms part of the history of humanity itself. In fact, we know that the children of Babylon, who lived in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) used to play games of chance with the knucklebones of sheep and other cattle as we play with dice. Roman children also used to play knuckle bones while in ancient Egypt children played with houses, weapons and dolls… Toys and games are an honest reflection of the reality of every age and each civilization.
In this sense, dolls have been one of the toys that has survived and adapted to changing times and fashions. They were the perfect gift during the Renaissance and the favourite toy of the lower classes. Widespread use of plastic in the 20th century meant that dolls were found in nearly all homes… From the slim model Barbie by Mattel, created in the United States in 1959, to the lovable Nancy by Famosa… made in Spain in 1968 and enjoyed by millions of mothers and daughters (watch the ad). There are other legendary toys such as the model electric trains and metal cars built to scale that, with working lights and electric motors, led to the creation of Scalextric, created in the 1950s in the United Kingdom.
Over the years many experts have underlined the importance of games and toys for children’s development. In the 19th century, the German pedagogue Friedrich Fröbel, considered the founder of pre-school education, the kindergarten concept and widely referred to as the pedagogue of the Romantic movement, was the first educator to give prominence to toys and play as fundamental elements of children’s development.
In 1980, the United Nations for Education Science and Culture (UNESCO) published a study titled ‘The child and play’ which states that “play is vital; it conditions the harmonious physical, intellectual and affective development of a child. A child who does not play is a sick child”.
Play as experience
More recently, the Italian educational psychologist Francesco Tonucci, an internationally recognised expert in educational reform considers that “play is the most important experience, not only in childhood, but in life itself, because playing lays the foundation on which life is built”. Tonucci, known as Frato, is responsible for the ‘City of Children’ project which he started in 1981 in his home town of Fano so that “children can play in the streets again” and which 25 years later has been joined by 200 towns from all over the world, including Valencia.
Jamil Ajram is a well-known Syrian paediatrician, aged 65, who has worked in Barcelona for over 30 years, in which he has been Head of Paediatric Services and Neonatology in the University Hospital Sagrado Corazón. “Play has many benefits for children, such as motor skills and development, but also related with their learning processes, socialization and personal skills”, he says. Doctor Ajram points out that “when playing in a group, the game becomes a method of socialization in which the children learn to build relationships with each other and is a tool that enables them to learn values such as respect and collaboration”.
As always, the Festival of Infancy
These are the same values that are dear to the Festival de la Infancia of Fira de Barcelona since its first edition in 1963. In these 53 years of its existence, the Festival de la Infancia has seen millions of children enjoy their Christmas holidays in an ideal environment where they learn values like sharing, respect for the environment, sport and creativity.
In this year’s edition, the event, which is a classic ingredient of Christmas in Barcelona, will offer over a hundred activities for learning and playing offered by institutions including the Generalitat de Catalunya or the Diputació de Barcelona and entities such as Fútbol Club Barcelona, among others. Under the motto “Let’s have some fun”, palaces 1 and 2 and the Plaza del Univers in the Montjuïc enclosure of Fira de Barcelona will once again ring with the laughter of thousands of children.