Monday, January 25, 2016

The Extraordinary Significance of Play

     Preschool can be wonderfully enriching for children for many reasons, and playtime may be the most significant reason of all.

      Some parents may wonder at that.  Can’t a child play at home, for free?
      Don’t I pay that tuition so my child can learn?

      Yes and yes.  Children can play at home, and hopefully do, and parents do pay tuition so their child can learn.  And some of the most significant things they learn come during playtime.

      In preschool we work on numbers and letters and are delighted when children learn to sing little songs in Spanish or remember when nocturnal animals sleep or finally figure out how to put on their own coat or make scissors work. But it is during play time outside and inside that children really learn some things in a way that can’t happen at home.

       Home is a safe harbor for a child – and it should be.  In a functional home someone is always there who will be the child’s protector and advocate.  But the purpose of home is to raise a child into an independent adult who can speak for himself, or take care of herself, with all the skills and self-confidence to function happily in the world.

       Preschool is where children take their first steps towards that goal of learning the skills of independence.  School readiness skills are valuable and help a child prepare for the academic world ahead.  But some really extraordinary things happen in the social development of a child during preschool playtime, in part because they are among a group of their peers, and in part because of a new environment with stimulating opportunities.

        During playtime children learn crucial social skills among a group of their peers. 

        During play time, imaginations kick into a higher gear as children share ideas and try out toys and activities they haven’t tried before.

       During play time children learn about collaboration, compassion, and competition and gain confidence.

       During play time children learn about being part of a group, and making their own choices.

      Playtime is more than a junior recess where the children run loose to get the wiggles out.  Teachers thoughtfully choose toys and play opportunities,  give some gentle friendship coaching, and are on hand to mediate conflict, and a little direction when needed, and playtime becomes a significant part of the day.
       Playtime is three boys learning that they can each build their own tower with some magnetic blocks, or they can work together and build a super tower.

       Playtime is dress-ups and children trying out the roles of adulthood as they fix dinner parties, attend princess weddings, save people from burning buildings and catch the bad guys.

       Playtime is a shy child rolling out play dough beside a giggly child, and discovering that talking to someone new doesn’t hurt after all.

       Playtime is where a girl finds out that if she is always grouchy and bossy when everyone is playing pets,  people are too excited to have her join them.

       Playtime is where children discover that sometimes everyone on the playground wants to run and chase but it’s okay to stay happily digging in the sand if you want.

      Playtime is finding another child who loves ponies/kittens/digging holes/playing store as much as you do, and realizing how fun it is to share something you really like with someone else.

     When playtime is working right, learning and fun are synchronized and firing on all cylinders.

      As much as playtime is a golden hour for many children, it takes time for some children to get the hang of it.  Some want more structure, or direction in what to do. Choosing what and how to play is unfamiliar. Some aren’t sure how to play with another child or make a friend.  Some get exasperated having to share or accommodate other children’s choices.  These are the children who need playtime the most, and it’s wonderful helping them learn how to really play.

© Diane Mangum 2012