With rapid shifts in values within our education systems (which often don't align with early childhood research), we are quickly losing sight of the importance and value of play for preschoolers and early elementary aged children. Many families still value play but for others the worry and concern for future academics has prompted parents to drive preschools to adopt more structured curricula.
Here are some (because there are many) reasons children NEED to play:
1. Play helps children with the development of executive function.
When children are allowed autonomy they learn how to think critically and make choices. Don't we all learn better through our experiences than when we are told things are a certain way? Don't we often even test this out?? Experiencing the world and figuring things out is a key way in which children learn. Young brains are malleable and need to be stretched and challenged and presented with new ideas and interactions. Teachers are responsible for facilitating ways where children can do new things which opens the door and sets up opportunities for children to explore and learn. We ask questions and create lessons to enrich learning but ultimately a children's discovery will be most impactful in the long-term. Check out the wonderful video from Harvard's Center on the Developing Child about development of executive function.
2. Play creates natural and authentic social experiences for children.
Preschool is an amazing Petri dish of social experiences - helping, community, cooperation, life skills, sharing, taking turns, having enough supplies to go around at once, learning patience in waiting, etc. Thankfully, teachers are caring adults that can support children through these new and confusing situations. When children play it gives the opportunity for social interactions - positive and negative - to surface alongside adults who are available to model and guide children through these stages. If a child sits at a table all day and does worksheets, will they ever have an experience of authentic interaction?
Here is a great article on supporting a child's social development.
3. Play gives children a variety of sensory and learning experiences.
When children sit at tables all day there is no opportunity for experiences that include all five senses or that promote motor skills and challenging body growth and stimulation. Additionally, even if children do move around, but do not have sufficient opportunity to make choices, will they learn this skill wisely? We learn by doing in all our parts - mind, body, and spirit. We cannot learn to kick a ball by sitting on the sideline. We cannot learn the true meaning of numbers without feeling and touching maniplatives. We cannot experience wonder if we don't see things like science experiments and nature. By doing, our whole self is connected to learning which creates a love for education and curiosity for life. Here is a quick read on the importance of sensory integration.
4. As Fred Rogers said, "Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning."
This quote sums up another huge point in that play gives children the gift of time. When children have time, minds and selves are allowed to unfold and grow in a natural, less-stressful way.
At Midtown Lutheran Preschool we value balance. We believe in structured learning and life experiences (circle/story time; meals) but balance this with sufficient and developmentally appropriate free-choice play time outside and inside through centers.
Find out more about our educational values HERE!