Let’s Play: 6 Benefits of Play in Child Development
My daughter came running up to me one day at the beach with a huge piece of sea kelp in her hands. “I found a treasure!” she said. “A ginormous treasure! I’m going to go catch a fish with it. Bye-bye.” And off she ran, joyfully, back into the ocean to wield her “treasure” as a fishing pole.
Take a moment, if you can, and think back to a happy childhood memory. What was something that you loved to do as a little kid? Was it riding a bike down the street, the wind in your face, going as fast as your little legs could pump those pedals? Was it building with erector sets, blocks, plastic building bricks, and Lincoln Logs®, creating whatever your imagination allowed? Was it pretending to be a teacher, or a rock star, or a veterinarian, or a dragon, or a superhero? Was it painting at an easel, mixing colors and bringing pictures to life? Was it digging in the dirt and climbing trees and building forts and uncovering hidden insects under rocks? Was it dressing up your Barbie for a princess ball or having water gun fights with your brother?
We remember play.
For most of us, when we think about our childhood and what we loved to do as kids, we remember play. We remember joyful, unencumbered, playful experiences—using our imaginations, being free to explore a toy or the world around us without constant adult direction. And what we got out of those play experiences was critically important to who we are today. Through play you learned…
- how to think creatively and problem solve (what size pieces do you need to make windows on the second story of your building?),
- about your own limitations and how to challenge yourself (how hard can you pedal that bike?),
- how to persist through challenges (what colors do you need to mix together to get this purple the perfect shade for your painting?),
- how to make and follow rules and get along with others (you’re only allowed to squirt people who are holding a water gun),
- how to think symbolically (using objects in unconventional ways—using sea kelp as a fishing pole, for example—helped you make connections to more abstract symbols later, like using letters and numbers), and
- that you are awesome and capable and strong and brave!
That’s what we want for every child! In every classroom using The Creative Curriculum, play is valued, encouraged, and intentionally provided. And I am so happy to say that we are bringing those same values into preschool and kindergarten classrooms.
An opportunity to learn.
I recently stumbled upon an essay in The Wall Street Journal, entitled “To Really Learn, Our Children need the Power of Play.” As has become popular in recent years, it compares our approach to education in the United States to that of our friends in Finland. For a couple of years, when my children were very young, we lived in Helsinki, Finland. I had the pleasure of experiencing their early care and education programs as a parent and as an educator. What I loved most about those experiences is how ingrained play is within their culture. Rain, sleet, snow, sunshine—no matter the weather, children are outdoors playing! Not only is play celebrated, it’s accepted and acknowledged as an opportunity to learn. Play provides children with opportunities to succeed and fail, to learn about cause and effect, and—perhaps most importantly—it provides opportunities for children to reach those “a-ha!” moments on their own.
“Finland has a crucial insight to teach the U.S. and the world—one that can boost grades and learning for all students, as well as their social growth, emotional development, health, well-being and happiness. It can be boiled down to a single phrase: Let children play” (Sahlberg & Doyle, 2019).
The power of play.
Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has jumped on the play bandwagon. In their 2018, clinical report entitled “The Power of Play,” they detail how “research demonstrates that developmentally appropriate play with parents and peers is a singular opportunity to promote the social-emotional, cognitive, language, and self-regulation skills that build executive function and a prosocial brain. Furthermore, play supports the formation of the safe, stable, and nurturing relationships with all caregivers that children need to thrive.”
So, I think that it’s time that we let children be children—and let children play. The Creative Curriculum features investigation and discovery as a way of learning.