Oh, the literature about play expands without end. The research suggests, as well as years and years of classroom observation, that play is at the heart of true, connected learning. Yet, at the same time, schools are cutting down on open, structured and really any type of play in order to meet standards. In effect, they cut themselves off at the knees. It takes a special and bureaucratic, joyless mind to keep 7 year old boys in seats all day to learn. I am not sure I understand the thought behind these decisions, except fear and misunderstanding of the basic premises of child development and recent brain research.
Play allows time to develop a myriad of crucial qualities and skills, including:
- motor skills (gross and fine)
- language skills
- decision making skills and self-regulation
- healthy social interaction and friendship
- conflict resolution and persuasion skills
- problem solving skills
- interests, creativity, and an understanding of the world
This list is just the beginning of the benefits of unstructured, open-ended play, based on research and observation.
If we want to succeed in the unknown future, we need to be asking different questions about education. How can play be central to our national educational standards and expectations, instead of being viewed as a distraction from learning? What are all of the skills we need our children to have as they lead us into the future, and how do we best support them? What should schools or learning centers or homes look like to support this type of deep, connected learning through play and direct experiences? And it’s not just about the little ones- how can we connect people of all ages through play? When adults say “all they do is play all day” as if that’s a bad thing, I say, “I hope all they do is play all day.”