Play is often talked about as if it is a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. – Fred Rogers
The value of play often gets underestimated when children reach the pre-school years, and parents feel pressure to have their kids “school ready” and learn concrete skill sets that are not necessary for their developmental age. I love playing with my son, watching him play by himself, or with friends. He learns so much through playing, and so do I. Problem solving, social learning, language, math and physics, biology, chemistry, literacy skills are just some of the areas of understanding a child develops when supported in their play. Children do not acquire developmental concepts before they can, even if they are very intelligent. It is a misconception that we can accelerate development, and research in educational psychology shows us this. It is true however, that children develop similarly within a range at different paces in all areas. Children acquire more learning and meet developmental milestones when we allow them the space to create and explore with play.
My son plays with tools, building things, taking them apart, and figuring how to make something work, just like his Papa. One day I had the tedious task on my “ to do” list of assembling a book shelf. Pretty simple, right? Well, it was pretty simple, but my 5 year old pointed out an error I was making. I acquiesced and allowed him to take over. He read the diagrams in the instruction manual quickly and with ease. He identified matching tiny bits and pieces, counted and organized them where they belonged, along with the larger pieces for assembly. I just did the heavy labor and tightened the screws where he put them. I’ll admit I was surprised. I realized that all those irritating times I would find screw drivers here and there, step on screws, fall over things taken apart when I wasn’t looking, have all lead up to this moment!
Children learn through play, through experimenting with the things in their world. I invite you to start noticing the many things your child does in “play” that you might not see as play. Find ways that support these moments. When we play, and are not in a mode stressed out to achieve or have concerns about getting approval or disapproval we are best able to learn and create. I say we, because this goes for adults and children alike. Play creates an optimum environment for learning, all the time. Cooperative play and collaboration, symbolic play, are all areas of learning important to develop. Working with others, taking another person’s idea and elaborating on the theme, and using imagination are just some essential skills play facilitates in child development. They are also essential skills for life!
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” — Albert Einstein.
Image Credit: Paul Bacon Jr