Back in the day, children use to play outside. When I was a child, I did the same thing. Not as much though. Rough neighborhoods, plus the draw of Nintendo and Sega. Good times.
But I didn’t stay inside all the time. I’d turn off the electronics and create games – both inside the house and outside. With my siblings, we made-up games such as bed hockey, rock golf, and see who could chug a two-liter of water the fastest. All games had risks of physical injury or chronic urination, but they were a lot of fun. Most of all, these games we created using available materials and our imagination.
I mean, think about a child who sees wood stakes, nails, a hammer, paint, electrical tape, and thinks, “I can make a golf club.” I made a golf club – three in fact. Blue, green and purple. From there, rock golf was made (because rocks were free and plentiful).
Learning and development are happening during play. It may be easy to see in the story I just wrote. But this kind of learning happens in all kinds of play, especially free play. So, you must understand my confusion when people say “Young children should be learning academics. All they do is play. They’re not learning anything.”
Really? They’re not learning anything? False.
Seeing children running around – smiling, laughing, and delightfully screaming at the top of their lungs – is not mindless or a waste of time. And, play is just as, if not more important, than learning academics.
Moral of the Story: Let children play – i.e. develop, learn, and create.
Did you ever take a second language course in high school? Okay. Do you speak two languages today? Perhaps, not. Maybe you do, kudos, but most do not. I don’t. Well, why not? Most people would say that they didn’t use the language beyond their classroom assignments. Others would say that they didn’t use the language in everyday life. Either way, the second language didn’t prove useful beyond a school requirement. Therefore, your brain pruned out that second language. In my case, I don’t speak Spanish (And I’m latino and lived 30 years in California. Still, it didn’t sink in).
Okay. Let’s change gears. Now, think about your hobbies. Your favorite things to do. One of my favorite things to do is photography. I took my first photography class in middle school (although not all schools offer such an elective, so I’m lucky). Ever since middle school, I’ve been hooked. I’ve taken thousands upon thousands of photographs. Usually, I have a camera on me at all times – digital camera or my smartphone. Beyond snapping shots, I enjoy visiting websites and reading camera reviews, reviewing camera stores, and checking out headlines for new camera announcements.
Alright. Let’s bring this all together. Spanish and photography. Why did I retain my photography knowledge from middle school and not my Spanish knowledge from high school? I had one semester of photography and two years of Spanish. Well, simply put, I spent more time with photography. I went beyond the classroom assignments and played with the knowledge and tools. I took the curriculum, then experimented and created. I purchased my own cameras. I tried out new techniques and explored the topic deeper. Therefore, I retained the knowledge because I used it. Additionally, photography is fun for me, so there is a positive-emotional connection associated with the hobby.
So… guess what? The same thing happens in preschool. You know all of those things that we teach in school? Well, when children play, they take what they know and they start playing it. That knowledge comes out during their play. Sure, they may be playing games and activities that are geared toward their interests – like cartoon characters, super heroes, and others. However, embedded in their play are opportunities for knowledge they learn in school to come out. They’re actually spending more time with the knowledge and they’re strengthening the possibility for that knowledge to be rooted in long-term memory.
Second, play allows for a positive-emotional connection between instruction and fun. I’ve always done well in school, but that’s because I had a positive response toward getting good grades, completing assignments and doing good work. But, I’m sure I didn’t have the same disposition when I was three years old. If I was going to remember something, then I needed to play.
Third, play allows children to be creative. A university instructor – who I hold in high regard – said that “play = creativity.” I agree. Children learn from teachers, parents, and other children. Play, however, allows children to take all of that knowledge and allows them to create, construct, and – in the process – reinforce what they’ve learned. Sure, teachers may provide opportunities to be creative, but the skills and feelings toward creativity is left up to the child, and therefore they must have opportunities to explore their imagination. Play allows that opportunity.
Lastly, I’m not just sounding off here. Research backs this up. Play supports all learning domains. Play supports school readiness skills. Play supports literacy and mathematic skills. Here is some information.
Sure, you could teach a child their letters, numbers and colors. But those are so isolated and singular. It’s like that story of giving a man a fish or teaching a man to fish. Let’s teach our children to fish. Let’s allow them to have happiness, fun and positive emotions toward learning.
Let. Them. Play.
P.S. Here is a TED Talk about how play and creativity are linked.