Playtime is one of the most cost-effective investments a parent can make in a child’s education. It requires nothing more than time, space, and imagination.” (1)
I home school 2 of our grandchildren. The 5 yr old is a rough-and-tumble boy, the 4 year old is all-girl and all-tomboy combined in one. Both are high energy dynamos.
A tremendous advantage of home school is that ‘formal’ learning is completed relatively quickly leaving ample time for play. Truthfully, I wonder sometimes if the kids spend too much time playing, but then I call to mind ways children learn through play and my worries are put to rest.
1. Play stimulates imagination.
Our grandchildren have few store-bought toys and don’t have access to TV. Surprisingly, they don’t feel impoverished by the apparent lack. They climb trees, explore the yard, and make their own toys. A seed-pod from a tree becomes a boat and a stick becomes a sword to fend off dragons or tigers.
Where do they get the ideas that feed their vivid imagination? From school lessons, books, videos, movies and the Internet. It’s a dynamic cycle—learning stimulates imagination, imagination inspires play, play cultivates learning.
Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist and philosopher known for his studies with children, said, “The principal goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done—men who are creative, inventive, and discoverers.” (2)
Imagination is the wellspring of inspiration, invention, innovation.
2. Play stimulates curiosity.
Young children ask many questions. Some are hilarious, others bizarre and some make us wonder, “Where do they get all these questions?”
Piaget observed that children want to know why things are the way they are. In play, children follow their curiosity in an attempt to find answers. Piaget surmised that children realize they have a vast amount of intuitive knowledge, but they don’t know how they acquired it. (3)
It’s like carrying a box of 1000 loose puzzle pieces in their sub-conscious mind, but not knowing what the big picture looks like when all the pieces are properly assembled. Play allows children to examine individual pieces of the puzzle, explore how they fit with other pieces and discover the emerging picture.
Curiosity fuels the urge to explore and discover how? why? what if?
3. Play stimulates emotion.
Play creates opportunity for children to discover and express emotion without constraint. And, as others join their play, children are obliged to learn how to share not only their toys but also their emotions. “Me and mine” must give way to “Let’s be friends” or they soon find themselves alone and miserable.
Psychotherapist and parenting expert Katie Hurley states. “Through play, children learn to master their fears, assert their needs, process and cope with their emotions, and learn to get along with others.” (4)
In play, kids cultivate their emotional landscape.
4. Play stimulates healthy physical development.
Obviously, as children enjoy running, jumping, climbing, skipping and the host of other activities that make up outdoor play, large motor skills, balance and coordination are developed. But Dr. Rachel E. White (5) and others (6), list additional benefits of outdoor play:
- aerobic endurance
- growth stimulation of major organs
- increased bone mineral content
- reduce obesity in children
- alleviate ADHD symptoms.
- reduce disruptive behavior
The physical benefits of play go far beyond the obvious.
5. Play stimulates cognitive development.
Piaget observed that as children play, they experiment with objects and organize their characteristics into a system of categories. When something does not fit into existing categories, children adjust their categories to accommodate new information, or simply create new categories.
Play activates important cognitive processes involved in learning.
“Play is not a break from learning—it’s the way young children learn.” (7)
(1) Protect Your Child’s Playtime: It’s More Important than Homework, Lessons, and Organized Sports, Dona Matthews, <http://www.creativitypost.com/education/protect_your_childs_playtime_its_more_important_than_homework_lessons_and_o>
(2) From remarks at a conference on cognitive development at Cornell University, 1964. <http://psychology.about.com/od/early-child-development/a/jean-piaget-quotes.htm>
(4) Stressed Out in America: 5 Reasons to Let Your Kids Play, Katie Hurley, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/katie-hurley/stressed-out-in-america-5-reasons-to-let-your-kids-play_b_4869863.html>
(5) The Power of Play: A Research Summary on Play and Learning, Dr. Rachel E. White for Minnesota Children’s Museum
(6) Play in Children’s Development Health and Well-Being, Jeffrey Goldstein. University of Utrecht, Netherlands, for Toy Industries of Europe
(7) Play: It’s the Way Young Children Learn – Children’s Advocate, <http://www.childaction.org/families/publications/docs/guidance/PlayItstheWayYoungChildrenLearn_Eng.pdf>