Years of research on children’s learning and development document the many benefits of play for children’s intellectual, social, emotional, physical and language development. Children at play are actively involved in creating themes, exploring and establishing environments, solving problems, and developing shared understandings. As kids play with each other, they learn to see other children’s points of view and begin to become more empathetic and caring. They learn to use language in new ways to describe their play and to interact with others. And in play, children develop their muscles and coordination.
Play may be the most important process through which children learn to adapt to the world and become more mature. Play gives children the opportunity for success.
Children play in many ways. They play independently, sometimes near each other but with each child engrossed in his own activity. They engage in what is called “parallel play”, perhaps using each others’ toys or even talking, but not coordinating their play. As they mature, children engage in symbolic play. Preschoolers often play cooperatively, organizing roles and scenarios for group play. Children need both indoor and outdoor experiences – all kinds of play are valuable. They are by nature playful beings. Play is intrinsically motivated – no one else tells them what to do or how to do it. It is how young children learn.
Our society has become increasingly complex, competitive and fast-paced. As a result, children’s spontaneous play is being replaced with structured activities at home and in school. We like to think of childhood as an idyllic, carefree time, but in today’s fast-paced, high energy world, children feel pressured at ever-younger ages. Unfortunately, some adults feel that if they’re not paying for an experience, it’s not worth it educationally. Even schools have scheduled “no recess days”, a sign of these times. The truth is, research does NOT show higher test scores when these programs are stifled.
An important step you can take as a parent is to slow the pace of your child’s life. Children should be given lots of unstructured time, either by themselves or with friends at home. Down time gives children a chance to not only relax but work out problems and think creatively while playing.
Children must engage in self-paced, child-controlled play. Play doesn’t just make kids happy, healthy and human. It makes them smarter! Play refreshes and stimulates the mind. For young children, PLAY IS LIFE!
by Nancy Nathanson, Regional Education Director