Understanding the Role of Play

Since the inception of human activity, play has dominated the way humans spend our daily lives.  Why? Simply put, play is fun.  As of late, scientists have begun spending their time seeking to determine what is the developmental value of play, specifically for children.  Researchers and scientists have determined, without doubt, that play is of enormous value, and is essential to child development. This post will seek to convey what play is, what the science says about play, and how adults can aide in the play process.

What exactly is play? (Source: “The Power of Play: A research Summary on Play and Learning”)

  • It is something that is enjoyed
  • Because pleasure is received from play, individuals are internally motivated to play
  • Play is freely chosen, and not forced
  • Play has no ideal outcome, instead the value is placed on the process
  • Play must be physically or mentally engaging
  • Play likely involves pretending and using one’s imagination

Are play and learning contradictory concepts?

  • No, learning and play are inter-connected.  To play is to learn, and to learn is to play.

What does the Research on play say?

  • While playing, children engage the following skills: control, confidence, collaboration, communication, coordination, creativity, and critical thinking (Source: Minnesota Children’s Museum)
  • During play, children experience the batman effect: “children preform cognitively while playing as if they are a full year older” (Source: Institute of Child Development)
  • US society is placing more of an emphasis on academics than on play, despite the fact that research shows that play is essential to engaging successfully in academics (“The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds”)
  • Play assists children in developing competencies
  • Play leads to higher self esteem
  • Play leads to great resiliency
  • Play helps to build and maintain healthy bodies

What is he Teacher’s role in the play process? (“The Power of Play,”: University of Minnesota CEHD Connect)

  • The teacher should not dictate the play process, but should rather serve as a guide, offering the child possibilities
  • They must understand that play is child-directed
  • Play helps to build the bond between child and teacher that aides in development
  • Teachers encourage children to go outside their comfort zone
  • The teacher must create environments that stir the children’s interests
  • The Teacher should encourage the parents of their students to engage in play with the child at home

Questions to ponder pertaining to play:

  • How can you create an environment suitable for child’s play?
  • What do you feel when you hear the terms “child-directed play”? Does this stress you out?
  • What will guiding play look like in your classroom?
  • Is your classroom suitable for physical play?
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