Posted on 02/04/2019 at 10:55 AM by Blog Experts

“Let our children play!”

We get it!  Early childhood educators understand the importance of play, or at least we think we do.  

One way to measure the degree as to how much you “get it” is to take a peek at your daily schedule.  Notice the balance between adult-directed activities and child-choice activities.  Which direction does the balance shift towards- adult or child?  Ponder that for a moment, then ask yourself this:  When you have changes in your daily schedule due to late starts, early outs, guest speakers, etc., what do you take those minutes from?  Do you lesson your students’ choice time or take it from something you lead?

Play is how young children learn. Play is natural.  Play builds brains.  For children it is a way to learn about themselves and the world through self-created experiences.  Children solve problems through play.  Executive functioning is enhanced through play.  Play promotes problem solving and creativity; it builds better attention spans, and encourages social development. 

As early childhood educators, we can offer both child-initiated and guided play opportunities.  Guided play is when the educator sets up learning opportunities with goals and objectives in mind and gives children opportunities to discover and learn with guidance rather than being directly given the answers.  Research shows that when children learn by discovering answers themselves, they learn more quickly than when adults give them the answers.  In their book Einstein Never Used Flashcards, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D. and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Ph.D stated in their summary, “Through our years of research, we have come to the conclusion that “play is to early childhood what gas is to a car.” It is the very fuel of every intellectual activity that our children engage in. In essence, play is the key to nurturing, happy, intelligent children.”  

Not only does play enhance intellect, it also helps relieve stress.  Many of our children have experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and have experienced toxic stress.  In an American Academy of Pediatrics clinical report titled “The Power of Play:  A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children” the author states, “Play is not frivolous: it enhances brain structure and function and promotes executive function (ie, the process of learning, rather than the content), which allow us to pursue goals and ignore distractions.”

It continues, “When play and safe, stable, nurturing relationships are missing in a child’s life, toxic stress can disrupt the development of executive function and the learning of prosocial behavior; in the presence of childhood adversity, play becomes even more important. The mutual joy and shared communication and attunement (harmonious serve and return interactions) that parents and children can experience during play regulate the body’s stress response.”

When we appreciate the importance of play in a child’s learning, we will give children the time and opportunities to engage in the self-initiated play and set up their learning environment through guided play.  

Don’t give up!  Spread the word.  More importantly, heed the word!  

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