Let’s PLAY!

AUTHOR: Lori Reemts, Project Coordinator – Curriculum & Instruction

As adults, we long for the long weekend or holiday because we are eager for a brain break, a new adventure, or a chance to play in life. Play is our departure, our recreation, and sometimes our connection to the inner child or to memory lane. It is the opposite of what we consider work to be. As a result, we sometimes lose sight of the many benefits of play and how important these benefits are to our developing youth. Many of us feel happy when we see children playing; we may even recognize some general social and physical benefits. And yet some may question what they see when walking by a classroom full of 3-, 4-, or 5-year-old children who appear to simply be playing. Play is fun after all and classrooms are about working hard and learning. Still others may question the level of rigor or the relevance associated with this seemingly carefree whimsy and equate it with merely babysitting the students.

 

While there are many more notable quotes about play than the four below, these seem particularly noteworthy.

  • “Play is the work of the child.” Maria Montessori
  • “Play is the highest form of research.” Albert Einstein
  • “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.” Carl Jung
  • “The playing adult steps sideward into another reality; the playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery.” Erik H. Erikson

 

Though there is research demonstrating the importance of play, logical understanding of play, and pure admiration for it, there are still those who react as if play is not a significant part of child development which impacts so many areas.

 

Consider academic, emotional, social, and physical development. Each of these areas impacts the others and retains its own set of milestones, prerequisites, and skill sets. In play, students work on these areas simultaneously and, because each experience of play is unique, students continuously develop and learn. They do not need a lecture or a worksheet to develop these areas–they need experience.

 

We know that best practice for an effective learning environment includes the need for meaningful engagement with information as well as interactions that occur within the context of the children’s daily experiences and development. For young children, and it could be argued older children as well, this engagement occurs through play. The phrase “hands-on, mind-on” is often used to describe interactive learning experiences that connect movement and physical experience to mental and learning experience. This is exactly what play is and what play does.

 

To understand and use children’s natural capacity for play as an effective classroom tool, it is important to also consider the stages of play.

  • Solitary
    • infancy to toddler years
    • plays alone; limited interaction with other children
    • separate toys
  • Spectator/Onlooker
    • begins during toddler years
    • observes others but does not play with them
  • Parallel
    • toddler years
    • plays side by side; lack of group involvement
    • similar toys
  •  Associate
    • toddler through preschool years
    • plays with similar goals; no formal organization
    • rules not set; may play with similar toys; may trade toys
  •  Cooperative
    • late preschool years
    • organized by group goals
    • typically at least one leader

 

By understanding the developing areas of a child along with the stages of play, educators are able to carefully plan purposeful and intentional play-based experiences that support student development aligned to Prekindergarten objectives. Children will benefit from play whether the experience has had enhanced opportunities provided through an intentional planning process or not. As educators, we can intentionally plan for and provide those enhanced opportunities so that our students’ growth, development, and success is even more robust. This is the difference between learning that occurs in a classroom where students are simply playing and learning that occurs in a classroom where students are playing in an environment designed for the purpose of mastering learning objectives. It is important to maintain a balance between free play and purposeful play, remembering that each kind of play serves a positive purpose for students.

 

Next time you set your sights on a weekend of recreational play in your adult life, consider the skills and interactions you use as second-nature and without even realizing it. Don’t just concentrate on your “work” too much—you might just forget to have fun!

 

 

Resource

Children’s Health. (n.d.). Retrieved April 6, 2015, from http://www.healthofchildren.com/P/Play.html


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