The Importance of Play in Early Childhood
“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.” -Leo F. Buscaglia
When we think of play in early childhood, often we do not consider that play is a learning experience. If you’ve ever sat and watched a child play, you can almost see the little wheels spinning in their heads. They bring this exuberance and excitement to their environment. They pull out a set of blocks and you just can’t wait to see what they create. Their minds flash upon images they have seen in storybooks, TV, and real-life. Then, they spend all this time building their masterpiece and want to tell you a story about their creation. Suddenly, in an instant, they turn around and knock the whole thing down and laugh. The destruction was just as exciting as the creation.
Play is a verb meaning to, “engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose”. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) There, that definition in itself may be the problem and thus, the confusion on the importance of play in early childhood. While play may be a source of relaxation and recreation, in the early years, play is a necessary part of the learning process. If you walk into an early childhood educational facility, you will, no doubt, find the children sitting in the floor happily surrounded by a pile of toys. That child is just elated with their situation though the room may look like a tornado just went through.
“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” -Mr. Rogers
In reality, however, those toys were chosen for a specific learning purpose. That teacher in the room would be more concerned if your child was not sitting in a pile of toys. The children are learning how things work, what goes up and comes down, what piece fits where… etc. They put toys that wouldn’t necessarily be played with together, together. Maybe the baby doll wants to build her a house, so out comes the blocks. The baby doll needs a friend, so some cows and a Mr. Potato Head come to the tea party. What skills are being built there? Social skills, language skills, math skills, spatial awareness! Through maneuvering these characters around the child is using vocabulary and creating a conversation with the “friends”. When a child uses a toy for a purpose for which it wasn’t made, that child is implementing critical thinking skills. For instance, a child takes a hula hoop and instead of twirling it around their waist, they use it to roll a ball around in the circle.
“Play is the beginning of knowledge.” -George Dorsey
Children have fantastic minds that aren’t inhibited by what we adults know about life. They are full of exploration resulting in successes and failures. Failure is just another opportunity to learn! Life is hard! If we let the children grow up without conquering failure, what does the world have to offer them? Let them play, let them succeed and fail. Provide inspiration to them through critical thinking and asking them questions. What could you have done differently, what if you turned it this way or that, what if you used something bigger or smaller… there are so many ways to challenge a child through play. Get down on the floor with them; interact and participate in their learning. You will be so surprised about what your child can do.
“If you want to be creative, stay in part a child, with the creativity and invention that characterizes children before they are deformed by adult society.” -Jean Piaget
Don’t think the educational play ends inside!! The fun just begins when you take the learning outdoors. Smell the air, look at nature, feel the wind and yes, take those toys outside and see what fun things they do with them. Mr. Potato Head has never been happier than sitting in a mud puddle with your smiling child. Let them run, jump, and hop… get in some good gross motor work out there, build and strengthen those large muscle groups.
“Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” -Diane Ackerman
Author: Belinda Davis ©2019