PLAY AND LEARN
There are so many good reasons why a child should play. It is fundamental in developing the foundations for formal learning in reading, writing, mathematics, etc. Play also encourages language development as well as develops social and emotional skills. The great thing is that children play and learn. It goes hand in hand.
WHAT IS PLAY?
Do you want the long, boring answer? No, I didn’t think so. I could give it but I don’t want to weigh you down with words. Simply put, play is the universal language of children. It is an activity that is done for enjoyment and really has no other objective. You just do it. For fun. All children play, and even if they cannot understand what the other child is saying, children will still play together. I like to think of it as something that is intrinsic, that we are born with. But sadly we can lose our ability to play and be creative and to imagine. With a lack of opportunities we forget and soon it is hard to do.
If we want to encourage play in our homes, it can be good to know that there are different kinds of play (in case you were worried or like a bit of categorization). Play is versatile and can be shown in many different ways. Whether reading books, playing board games, or building with Lego.
Types of play:
- Dramatic play – figuring out roles, assigning them and acting them out. Like Pirates! Or princesses or chefs.
- Symbolic play – using objects to represent something else, like a box being a car.
- Creative play – using imagination to explore or try out new ideas.
- Locomotor play – moving, running, chasing, climbing trees, etc.
- Fantasy play – where imagination runs wild and they get to be whatever or whoever they want to be with no limitation.
- Role play – acting out an action or performing the part of a person. An example is when one pretends to be the mom.
- Rough and tumble play – the name speaks for itself. It is about just horsing around and having fun and showing strength.
These are not all the categories of play but are the ones we are most familiar with. Our children should be engaging in these regularly.
WHY IS PLAY IMPORTANT?
It is vital we understand the importance of play in child development. Pediatricians get it. Educators get it. Yet somehow along the way, it is sort of forgotten as a whole as we strive to get our children ahead academically by doing formal lessons earlier and earlier. We are expecting our children to sit for longer times than their little bodies are capable of. Play goes to the wayside.
- Flexible thinking
- Facing and overcoming fears
- Problem-solving skills
- Processing emotions
- Trying new things
And they do learn how to take turns and share, to deal with conflict, and make mistakes. Our children will also discover their interests and passions. They will also hone their skills and abilities.
PLAY BASED LEARNING
What it’s not
There are things that play based learning is definitely not. It is NOT a parent setting aside a specific time each day to sit and play an educational game with their child. It is NOT a teacher telling the children in their class what they are going to play and how. Play based learning is NOT any specific, directed, objective, limited time of activity.
What it is
Play based learning IS your child running around in the backyard pretending to save the world. It IS your children coming together to put on a circus without any input from adults. It IS digging for worms, collecting leaves, jumping in puddles, and doing what your child is interested in without direction. Of course, you can turn any of these things into a learning moment, an educational snippet, but just know that your child is learning so much just by playing, by doing. Talk to them about it later – don’t interrupt them while they are in the moment.
We really do need to forget that everything has to be a structured educational moment. Let’s not overwhelm our children with activities and scheduled events, with sports and clubs and organized social events. Give them time to play – to be that famous mountain climber, that rock guitarist, that scientist who developed the cure for smelly feet. Let them run and play and climb and be. Without input, without restrictions, without judgment.
PLAY PLAY PLAY
I realize that in some ways I am bucking the trend of traditional education, even as a trained educator. I am not putting my girls into a preschool program and we are officially “unschooling”. Play based learning is a key component of our day. I love how it helps develop my girl’s creativity and imagination. Listening to their games and play is a joy. Some people have asked me if I am afraid of their missing out by not being in a class setting at this age. I am not. No way.
And we believe in play play play. (**Please note and hear my heart, there is no judgment on anyone who has children in school from a young age because I believe we need to parent in a way that works best for us, and if that means school for you, then go ahead and do it! This is what works for us. We have that flexibility. It is also not a judgment on schools, because I know that they have to meet requirements and expectations, etc. There are many great programs out there and many wonderful schools. I do just wish they would add more recess and playtime in the school day because our children would benefit from that time out of the classroom.)
Learn and Play Examples from my girls:
- “We don’t have a school bus for all the Peppa Pigs, but if you turn over the shopping trolley we can make that into a bus.” They were busy playing and making objects into what they needed them to be. There was no need to have all the stuff to make their play interesting or satisfying.
- We were on a family trip to the beach and one day the girls, while searching for treasures, came upon half a coconut. After using it for a while as a boat just floating in the water, the next thing I knew they had found a nut sort of thing and had named the nut “Baby Moses” and placed him in the boat. Soon a leaf was made into a blanket and Baby Moses became a favorite plaything for several days. They nurtured and cared for Baby Moses as though he was a prized baby doll or beloved pet.
- In our backyard there is a small playhouse. Usually, it functions as a restaurant but it can also be a hospital or a jail. One day the girls decided to be owls sitting on the roof. I honestly have no idea how they climbed up – I just heard them hooting and saw them both perched on it. The play situation did became a learning opportunity as they had to discover the way to get off the roof! (Let me tell you that shouting at the little stool on the ground to jump up to you isn’t going to work.)
- They wrote a song called “Super Naked Man” because they wanted to be superheroes but didn’t know who, and really they just wanted to be naked. They ran around the house singing and playing and saving the day, sans clothes.
Play vs Tech
We never really have a dull moment in our house because of the games and imaginative play of our girls. But I will say that I also tell my girls “You have books to read, toys to play with and great imaginations, so you should never be bored” even if they roll their eyes (yes, at 4!) and complain about not watching TV. It is usually a matter of redirecting and they are happy (and so am I).
“Mummy, I want to watch something on the iPad.”
“I would like it if you can play for 30 minutes first.”
2 hours later they are still happily playing. Win!
LEARN TO PLAY
I think there are many of us adults who would agree that once again we need to learn to play. Pressures of life can weigh us down. But we should set an example for our children. Show them that play is fun. Show them that whimsy and joy, fantasy and role play is for enjoyment and amusement. Maybe some of our older children once again need to learn to play. Maybe we should have a play revolution! Bring back play!
What are some of the games you remember making up when you were younger? At our house, we had a clothesline that spun around. My brothers and I would peg our soft toys to it. One of us would spin the clothesline and the others would try to hit the toys off with a tennis racquet or cricket bat to see who could get the toys furthest down the backyard. It was so much fun.
We had many other games that involved levels of danger (like zooming down our very steep hill on old trikes) and lived to tell the tale!
I hope my girls will continue to have many years of inventing games and playing them until they hurt from laughing. What are some of the games or imaginative play you see your children play? I would love to hear about them. Now, as I write this (and as I am currently at my old childhood home), I am remembering all the games my brothers and I made up. I am surprised we don’t have more scars and that we only put a few holes in the wall. My poor mother. I had better go and apologize.