Play is the most important thing we should allow kids to do without adult supervision. When they play, they may break things and make bad decisions. That is not only okay, but important. They will also learn about consequences. The fundamental way to figure out who we are is to play—to be with ourselves, to interact with others, to make someone angry or happy, to figure things out together. When I was a child, my best friend and I wanted to fly. We were 10 years old. We tried running around the house with sheets to take flight. Guess what—It didn’t work. We tried jumping off a low shed with our wings (sheets)—that didn’t work either. Obviously we were too heavy, and started stripping to get as light as possible. Soon two almost naked girls were running around the house with sheets trying to fly. I’m sure it was quite a sight. We learned a few things and we had a ball. We didn’t hurt anyone and we had a very productive afternoon. We failed but we didn’t care. We were flying anyway.
Play is the foundation of learning. And not our idea of what they “should” do, but natural, free style play. It can look like daydreaming, building, arguing, running around. It can be quiet and loud. It can be in the room with us or hidden under the blankets in the bedroom. We cannot build an industry off true free play or create a standardized test for it. Perhaps, that is why we undervalue play. Children learn about their world, they try on adult roles, work out issues with their playmates, they develop language and communication skills and they explore anything they are curious about through play.
Play is life for the child. All we need to do is give them time to do it—alone, without being in the room. Sometimes a cardboard box is enough to get the game going. For a beautiful, nuanced blog post about play, I recommend this one from Teacher Tom. He is able to capture the essence of the importance of play in this post and I couldn’t agree more. Play, as he says, is the ultimate discovery, it is the “invention of us”.