Robin Ploof, Ph.D., is the Program Director for the Masters of Education in Early Childhood at Champlain College. Her long career of working with students includes teaching and mentoring across a spectrum that includes the very youngest learners as well as adults. She can still be found occasionally reading a story at Stepping Stones Children’s Center in Burlington, Vermont where she served as the Founding Director for 25 years. Robin is a literacy trainer for the Vermont Humanities Council and serves as Past President on the board of the Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children.
Discovering The Power of Play!
In a world where everything is moving faster and faster, where pressures and expectations for children’s academic achievement are felt earlier and earlier, play is being pushed out of early childhood. Children’s lives are becoming more scheduled and more structured at an earlier and earlier age. There is less opportunity for play indoors, and less opportunity for outdoor play in nature and in the neighborhood.
Yet play is an important part of the culture of childhood and the lives of children. Though for many people the idea of “school readiness” means learning the ABCs and 123s, healthy social-emotional and physical development are also highly important factors of a child’s success in kindergarten. Play is a vehicle that can support that path toward readiness. Children learn through the context of their play. Play, learning and development are so closely connected that as children play the learning and development happen seamlessly.
Each developmental area is supported through children’s engagement in play:
- Play supports children’s physical development by helping with strength, balance and eye-hand coordination.
- Social development is supported as children learn to communicate with each other and learn how to get along with each other.
- Play supports emotional development through creativity and helping to build positive self-esteem.
- The kind of rich play vocabulary and conversation that takes place during dramatic play supports children’s language development.
- Through dramatic play, cognitive development is supported in several ways. Children gain problem solving skills, get exposure to emergent literacy, and learn foundational math concepts like counting and matching.
- Dramatic play can support children’s higher level thinking and the development of self-regulation skills. Simply stated, self-regulation skills include: motivation, the ability to work with others, attention, self-control, self-esteem and delay of gratification. The development of all of these skills and abilities can be supported through play. Not only do these skills help children get ready for school, but they also help children get ready for life!
As adults, there are several ways we can support children's play:
- Give children time for play and make play time a priority every day. Children need time to fully immerse themselves in their play experience—an hour and a half is perfect, but even a half hour is beneficial.
- Give children space for play (inside and outside). The space does not have to be large. A blanket draped over two chairs can be a whole world to a child.
- Practice tolerance and patience. Play can be noisy, messy and chaotic. What may seem just right for the child may not seem just right to us.
- Provide materials. The emphasis is not on providing toys. Don’t get out your credit card. If you are tempted to reach for a card, reach for your library card. Children can do amazing things with materials you would ordinarily recycle and a roll of tape, or some pots and pans you were going to put in a garage sale.
- Provide support as needed. Very young children such as infants, toddlers and even young three-year-olds will often need us to be partners and role models in play time with them. Older children may invite us to be play partners, but they are often happy to play independently or play with their peers.
If we give our children the gift of this amazing experience, they will reap the rewards for many years to come. That’s the power of play!