I believe in play.
There has been a ton of research on the social, emotional, physical and cognitive benefits of play. Most early childhood teachers agree that it is an essential component to their curriculum, but there are so many required programs and mandates that teachers struggle to fit it all into the day. There are also districts and administrators who, in their quest to raise test scores, discourage or prohibit play. I think it is our job to educate parents and administrators about why play is important and how children benefit from it. I would like to share some information from workshops that I have presented about play, that you might be able to use if you need to defend your decision to include play in your classroom.
Not all play is equal. Sending the kids off to the blocks or play-do while you check email or write a note to parents is not really the best way to use play as a learning tool. Sometimes we call teacher directed, fun activities play – but that really is playful learning, not true play.
Both play and playful learning are important in a Kindergarten classroom. In fact, almost anything we do with children has to be playful and engaging.
One of the biggest differences between play and playful learning is that all children can be successful in play. It is child directed and child controlled and has no adult determined agenda.
So why is play important?
- Play fosters language skills
- Play allows children to express and explore emotions
- Play provides opportunities to develop social skills
- Play encourages symbolic representations
-Play helps children develop critical cognitive skills called executive functions
Executive functions are a collection of brain processes whose role is to guide thought and behavior, and allow children to SELF REGULATE. (Control emotions, pay attention, resist impulses, delay gratification, exert self control.)
Hey! Wouldn’t it be great to have a classroom of kids who could all do that?
Here is a quote from a respected study:
Researchers have divided play into 6 main types.
Here is a little more explanation about each type of play.
The highest level of play is dramatic play – or sometimes called socio-dramatic play. A million years ago when I was working on my master’s degree in early childhood I did a research project for my thesis on the benefit of Socio-dramatic play, and how it is a great tool to teach our district language arts curriculum and foster the development of literacy. But for children to really benefit from play teachers have to be involved in the play, interacting and scaffolding the children’s learning. We have to provide time and set up the classroom to foster play.
I know I am preaching to the choir! I am just trying to share some information that might be helpful to you if you need to justify playing in your classroom. Here is an explanation of the difference between immature and complex play. Teacher involvement is the key to move from immature or simple play to more beneficial complex play.
That symbolic use of props is an essential pre-reading skill. When a child holds a banana to his ear as a telephone, or he drives a wooden block along the floor pretending it is a car, he is laying the foundation for understanding how letters are symbols for sounds.
Complex play requires
*Time to develop – constructive play often turns into dramatic play if kids have enough time, they build something and then start acting out roles with what they made.
*Familiarity with what people do in different situations
*Generic, multi-use props
*Focus on roles rather than on objects
That last one is hard for me! I love to set up dramatic play centers with lots of realistic props. It really does draw the children into the area and encourages them to play, but the play is more complex when the children need to construct their own props or use another object and pretend. A limited amount of realistic props can help motivate the children and give them ideas of how to play.
This information about the levels of play is helpful when you are talking to parents of a child who is insecure or a little immature. It is fun for me to watch this development with my grandson. When he is playing with other children he often parallel plays – just playing with whatever he wants to, alongside other children but not really playing together. If an older child is involved in the play my grandson will usually copy what he is doing. A confident Kindergartner is usually able to interact cooperatively during play.
So get involved with your kids’ play and have fun!