This space is about play advocacy. It explores the importance of playtime at home, or during therapy. But, what about school? What is school’s role in this important movement? It’s bigger and more important than you think.
As a fierce advocate for education and children, I’m deeply invested in how to get our little ones’ brains to work at a very young age. How do we help them become more engaged? How can we spark curiosity? How can we maintain that curiosity as long as possible? How can we tap into their full creative potential? My answer is a mix of different things: passionate teachers, 21st-century education, and a lot of playtime. Yes, you heard me right. Let our kids play!
Play teaches young students how to navigate through life
Naomi Smith, principal of Central Park East II school in New York, states ¨ (through play) you learn much of how to navigate life, and without navigating life you can’t navigate school¨. When children play, they can strengthen social, cognitive and fine-motor skills crucial to a healthy development.
There’s so much pressure placed on a rigorous education. This has a place and a time for it, but this shouldn’t be preschools’ priority. As Valerie Strauss, an educational journalist for The Washington Post mentions, ¨kindergartners are now under great pressure to meet inappropriate expectations… ¨.
This new trend is the reason some parents squirm when they hear the word ¨play¨ and ¨curriculum¨ together. Because there’s the wrong idea that playing and learning are mutually exclusive. Nothing can be further from the truth! When children have stations within the classroom, with materials to explore and create, they can learn so much more than just by sitting in their seats listening to a lecture.
Play develops the skills to achieve academic learning
Alfonso Lázaro and Pedro Pablo Berruezo, doctors in pedagogy, brought to light a ¨pyramid of development¨. This pyramid explains how skills build up to foster academic learning. Between symbolic play and acquiring academic learning, which one do you think happens first? Without symbolic play, interactions cannot gain meaning. And our little ones’ brains are not able to develop to their full potential.
Play develops attention skills as children feel the motivation to accomplish a certain goal within the game. Helps with language development as children are constantly representing characters and engaging in dialogue within their play. Strengthens motor skills as children need to manipulate materials to build and create. Develops social skills as children need to cooperate and collaborate with each other during cooperative play.
These are just a few of the large set of skills that play helps to develop. Inquiry-based teaching has gained a lot of popularity over the years and play-based learning goes hand in hand with this approach. The more engaged students are, the more open they will be towards learning.
Play sparks an academic motivation in young learners
Before children receive direct instruction at school, they need to feel motivated to learn. When we allow preschoolers and Kindergarteners to play, we are directly tapping into that desire and curiosity to learn more.
Elizabeth Garcia, a contributor for Edutopia, advocates for this trend. She states in her article ¨In our experience, it has been a necessary and effective pedagogy through which students achieve deep and meaningful learning at all ages. Most importantly, it is fun!¨.
Research shows that when students express curiosity and are engaged in activities that spark interest, their brains are better able to retain information. If children learn from an early age that learning can be playful and meaningful, they have better chances to excel in an academic setting.
While this entry is aimed at preschoolers, it’s important to clarify that a variety of grade-levels can incorporate play. Play has the unique characteristic of creating joy and interest in people of all ages. It is our responsibility to maximize this potential at a very young age. Teachers, don’t be afraid to incorporate play and get messy. Maybe you’ll find yourself having fun, too!