Importance of Play
Watch young children at play and you will be delighted by their enthusiasm and unbridled joy. Observe more closely, however, and you will see that these boys and girls are actually hard at work. Jean Piaget, the clinical psychologist known for his pioneering work in child development, concluded that “play is the work of the child.” Albert Einstein, one of the most respected minds of the 20th century, declared play to be “the highest form of research.”
Your pre-school child is going through a wonderful and unique stage of life: it is not a dress rehearsal for adulthood nor is it a competitive race against other children. It is a time of awe and wonder in which his natural curiosity guides him to new knowledge about his world. This knowledge is most naturally gained through periods of hands-on, child-selected, interest-based play activities.
“Play is the work of the child.”
“Play is at the heart of young children’s exploration and their engagement in learning experiences. During play, children maximize their attention span as they focus on self-selected activities that they regulate themselves. When children make their own choices, engage other children in interaction, and spend time amusing themselves on their own, they learn much about themselves, their own capabilities, and the world around them. . . Play not only provides the context for thinking, building knowledge, being attentive, solving problems, and increasing social skills, it also helps children to integrate their emotional experiences and internalize guidance from their teachers” (California Preschool Curriculum Framework, Vol. 1, 2010).
“Play is the highest form of research.”
Rae Pica, in her book What If Everybody Understood Child Development, recounts many additional benefits to children whose schools value play as an integral part of the daily schedule:
- Cooperative play is conducive to emotional health. It promotes a feeling of being in control of one’s life, increasing self-esteem and resulting in greater sensitivity and trust toward others and increased motivation.
- Play encourages children to find new ways of relating to one another and enhances the ability to share, cooperate, negotiate, compromise, make and revise rules, and take on the perspective of others.
- Play provides opportunities for children to meet and solve problems while expressing their thoughts and feelings.
- Play allows children to cooperate with others, persevere, practice self-regulation, and develop feelings of empathy toward others.
- Play encourages children to see that in any given situation there is more than one “right” answer, which encourages divergent problem solving.
- When children play together at an activity of their choice, it promotes language and literacy development.
- Playing with others prompts children to collaborate and compromise as they share ideas, decide what activities to pursue, and agree upon the best strategy to accomplish their goals.
Dr. David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child, The Power of Play, and Miseducation, offers this assurance: “Play in early childhood is a fundamental model of learning that ensures the best preparation for benefiting from later academic instruction.”