As parents, we are under pressure (both from ourselves and society) to ensure that our children do not miss out on anything, and succeed in everything. Consequently, this has led to the normality of scheduling our children’s days, quite often, from the moment they wake, until the moment they collapse into bed. The activity that loses out in all this way of living, is play. Simple, free, and unstructured. As parents, we like to know that our children are doing well, succeeding, and see progress. It validates that we are doing a good job, our children are being given opportunities, and as parents we are being proactive and encouraging. But what if we have got this all wrong, and have gotten swept away with the notion that this is what our children need? What if I told you life could be a lot more simple, cheaper, and less stressful for everyone. After all, those activities all cost money, parental time in taxi driving and support, and a lot of hurrying up in the process to get everywhere. I’m going to go through the evidence now of why we should let them play, and more importantly, why play IS learning, and we should just trust the process more.
Children are not designed to be sitting still in confined spaces, and they often learn a lot better while they are moving. As grown ups we need to think outside the box more, and view any play space as a learning potential space. Play can happen anywhere, and so that means learning can happen everywhere. One of the big things about play is that there are no rules to follow or curriculum, the child can just follow their interests. Then there is much more motivation to carry on with the subject, and they are more receptive to the learning opportunities. For the older ones, there are no negative associations with play. It’s not school “work” or home “work”, so they are a lot happier. If something is fun, a lot more is being absorbed and taken on board.
Art, craft, and creating is an especially positive form of play for children. It has been shown to make their brains grow, and provide an environment for creativity and the expression of feelings. However, this needs to be child led and unstructured. Leave the supplies out and let them get on with it. Letting the child lead in all types of play is the key to getting the best learning from the experience of play. Children are always experimenting in their play as well, with various objects and solutions. They measure, they pour, and they make various potions and solutions. This is them naturally doing science as play, and it really does work. I found my daughter once in the bathroom, surrounded by bubbles and her younger twin brothers, blowing different solutions through different shapes, having a blast learning what worked and what didn’t work. Not only was she learning, but she was teaching too.
My trio love their Lego and their puzzles. Once adults open their eyes a little more, we can understand that these toys are providing opportunity to learn about shape, size, order, and logic. All really important skills. We also encourage our trio to play games, such as happy families, with each other. As well as the interaction with others they get from not using a screen, they are learning to take turns and share.
A lot of our play is in the great outdoors. This environment not only increases strength, flexibility, and coordination, but it increases the use of imagination. There are no toys with a predefined use in the middle of a forest. A stick can be a sword, a broom, or a wand 🙂 Imagination is the key factor for play to be effective. There are less boundaries, less rules, and a lot more freedom for them to explore in the outdoors. It encourages the use of natural learning tools and resources to learn.
So, I am going to be a little more specific with what exactly they are learning now, just in case you are still sitting on the fence about the importance of play versus practising those spellings one more time. Children are learning to problem solve and be more creative. It gives them more enthusiasm and therefore more motivation to learn. They have more curiosity stemming from a natural interest and ability to be able to follow their interests (not something grown ups have predetermined for them). It can increase their confidence levels which are required to help them engage in new experiences. They develop their concentration levels further. Nothing can interrupt some imaginative play scenario that is going on between an Octonaut and a dinosaur!! It reduces their stress levels – this one I want to just talk a little more about. Due to their fight or flight pathways being activated in play (which is the same pathway that stress activates), they get exposed to stress (in a pleasant way), which then makes them less responsive to stress, and they are able to regulate it more effectively. Just look at the amount of emotional disorders that are now present in people’s lives…….as children’s classroom/homework time has increased, along with more scheduled activities in their lives too, so has the amount of anxiety and depression disorders.
In conclusion, parents and schools need to give children more provision for play…not adult let, or guided play activities, but child led and unstructured time. We need to trust that this is better for them than more homework after a full day in the classroom. We need to trust the learning.
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning, but for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”