In today’s fast paced life, it seems that more and more children are being rushed through their childhood. Before they start school they are practicing flashcards, math facts, or sight words. Once they are in school they have homework, projects, and extracurricular activities. With so much on their plate, children have less and less time to play.
Fred Rogers, famously said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
Play is the business of children! It is what they should be doing more of. In children play is interconnected with creativity, problem solving, and social emotional learning. Essentially it is how they learn to be people. From infant through childhood, play plays a pivotal role in a child’s development.
Play is often the heart of high quality early learning programs and can help prepare children for elementary school. There are different types of play that promote growth and development. When educators use the term play, people often think of free play, which is child initiated and child directed. Free play is a great way for children to practice social and self-regulatory skills and develop creativity. There is definitely a place for free play but it shouldn’t end there.
Research shows that guided play, which is adult initiated and child directed, is a powerful tool to incorporate play into curricula. One that does not compromise learning goals. Guided play gives kids autonomy, but also gives teachers some control over what they want the child to achieve. It makes learning engaging.
While many forms of play are often used in early learning programs, which have been proven to be effective, these types of initiatives seem to be missing from the early years of elementary school. In many schools around the nation, kids enter kindergarten and are expected to complete worksheets, sit for long periods of time, and even take tests. They have less time for play, less time for art, and less time for music. There has been a drastic shift from the 1990s and Kindergarten now looks like what first grade was a few decades ago. According to NPR expectations are getting higher for school age children.
Jean Piaget wrote, “Play is the work of childhood.” Therefore we as their parents and teachers need to make sure they get to do more of what is most important for their development.
In the classroom play can take different forms throughout the different grades. In the younger grades, teachers can set up play learning bins for students to explore, have areas where students can pretend play, have puppets for students, and build in time for play. As students get older, play and learning takes a different form. Teachers can take students outside and play games to practice concepts, have lego stations, and use manipulatives.
Schools often take recess times away from students the older they get, but if you can take your students outside for extra play time, just for the fun of it. No matter what their age, children need playtime, and the curriculum will not be affected if you take a 15 minute break to play with your students, it will actually enhance learning.
Parents can do similar things at home. You do not have to have a fancy space in the home, all you need to do is give your child time to play. Give them a box, some markers, and tape, and they will design and create something. Give them space in the backyard, and watch them come up with a game. Invite a friend for a technology free playdate and watch them pretend play. Give children time and space to play, and we promise they will use it well.