Guest Blogger: Melanie Nichols
This March, we are sharing a special series of blog posts from Melanie Nichols. This series was originally posted in February 2021. You can find Melanie and her blog here. If you would like to submit to our blog, please email us.
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” The beloved Fred Rogers summed up the value of play in this well-known quote. Unfortunately, it is becoming more common for teachers of even the youngest students to be pressured to pack every moment of the day with structured, academically rigorous activities. At the same time, many parents feel pressured to enroll their children in a steady stream of highly structured extracurricular activities that fill the afternoons and weekends. Yet research confirms that up to age 8, children benefit from opportunities for developmentally appropriate play at home and in the classroom. According to an article on healthline.com (link below), some of the benefits of play include developing critical thinking skills, understanding cause and effect, building creative thinking, helping children learn how to interact with others, and helping children understand and process their emotions.
Knowing that genuine play is so important and knowing that we want these benefits for the kids we love, we want to ensure they are regularly engaged in play. But how do we know what true play looks like? “The Power of Play,” found on the NAEYC website (link below), lists the following characteristics of play:
PLEASURABLE – Children must enjoy the activity, or it is not play
INTRINSICALLY MOTIVATED – Children engage in play simply for the satisfaction the behavior itself brings
PROCESS ORIENTED – When children play, the means are more important than the ends
FREELY CHOSEN – It is voluntary.
ACTIVELY ENGAGED – Players must be physically and/or mentally involved in the activity
NON-LITERAL – It involves make-believe
In order for kids to engage in this kind of play, we need to carve out time and space in our homes and our classrooms. As loving parents and teachers who understand the importance of playful learning in children’s lives, we can intentionally allow them opportunities to engage in genuine play and reap the many benefits. Through play, we can begin to build the foundations for motivated, healthy, and happy children and a productive society.