The Value of Play of All Sorts
Play is an arena where children learn new skills and practice old ones, both physical and social. Through play they challenge themselves to new levels of mastery. They gain competence in all areas of development—increasing language, social skills, and physical skills, for example. Briana not only practices such important skills as eye-hand coordination but also at times uses her whole body to improve balance and coordination.
David Elkind, long an advocate for play, says in his book, The Power of Play, “One legacy of our Puritan heritage is a lingering ambivalence toward child play.” The parent or program that buys “educational” toys can justify play as educational, but there is little research that shows toys marketed as educational really are. Elkind makes the case that it’s of more benefit to children to use their imagination in an environment that lends itself to exploration, initiative, and active engagement with objects, materials, and other children. It’s important that teachers don’t buy the consumer-oriented mindset that marketers are trying so hard to sell. Teachers can give a different message to parents and counteract some of the hard-sell coming from advertising.
Play provides for cognitive development in ways that educational toys don’t necessarily address. Cognitive development is tied in with physical and social interactions in the preschool years as children are constructing a view of the world and discovering concepts. So when parents see their children running around, playing outdoors, seemingly doing nothing constructive, a teacher should be there to help the parents look deeper at what’s really happening. Teachers can give parents the message that there’s nothing passive about play—even if the body is passive for a time, the mind is busy working. Children at play are active explorers of the environment as they create their own experience and grow to understand it. In this way they participate in their own development.
Through play, children work at problem solving, which involves mental, physical, and social skills. While playing, they can try on pretend solutions and experience how those solutions work. If they make mistakes, those mistakes don’t hurt them as they would in real life. They can reverse power roles and be the adult for a change, telling other children what to do. They can even tell adults what to do, if the adults are willing to play along.
Play enables children to sort through conflicts and deal with anxieties, fears, and disturbing feelings in an active, powerful way (Frost, Wortham, & Reifel, 2008). Play provides a safety valve for feelings. When they pretend, children can say or do things that they can’t do in reality.
Play makes children feel powerful and gives them a sense of control as they create worlds and manipulate them. Watch children playing with blocks, or dolls and action figures, or even in the sandbox. Think about how they create the worlds they play in. What power!
Children also get a sense of power by facing something difficult and conquering it—like finding a place for a puzzle piece that just won’t fit anywhere or climbing higher on the jungle gym than they’ve ever climbed before. Think back to your own childhood. Think of a time when you were challenged in play. What was your feeling as you overcame obstacles (including perhaps your own fear) and met the challenge?
© ______ 2009, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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