Let the children play

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JOCELYN LAUREL

Why playtime is just as important as school time
Today’s parents have put such a premium on academic learning that sometimes, they neglect a child’s need to play. Play is a crucial and significant part of a child’s development.

It builds physical skills (balance, agility, strength, coordination), cognitive and language skills (problem solving, concept developing, strategizing), social skills(sharing, turn-taking, cooperation, leadership) and has the components for emotional well-being (joy, creativity, self-confidence). It is the fundamental process underlying most of the learning which children do before they go to school.

Preschoolers are extremely well designed for learning as they are naturally curious. There is evidence that confirms what a lot of preschool teachers already know intuitively: that children learn through exploring and playing.

When children engage in pretend play, for instance, or have imaginary friends, or are exposed to different cultures, they are learning what people are like, how people think, and the kind of things people can do. This helps children learn to understand themselves and other people.

There is also evidence that this kind of understanding leads to social adjustment in school and social competence in life.

Deep, meaningful play, however, takes time to unfold. It does not happen in just a few minutes and the process cannot be rushed, but parents and teachers who create an environment filled with opportunities that allow children to explore in an unhurried way can help do so.

Play is critical to the development of healthy, well-rounded, confident children. Its contribution to development builds not only healthy bodies, but also healthy children: physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally.

It is the primary process through which children experience and internalize the world around them. When play is viewed merely as a respite from more structured learning experiences, its true value is lost.

In an article entitled “For The Mind To Grow, Allow It Space To Play”, author Grace Shangkuan Koowrites writes, “To allow our mind to grow, it needs mental space to play, time to muse, freedom to explore, courage to fail and more courage to try again. I keep my mind sound by letting it play—get fresh air, try new tricks, change its pace and challenge its stamina. Our mind is a living thing that can thrive only if we allow it to play; to understand that knowledge is not dead but living, tentative, organic and subject to change. If we are stuck in the past or even the present, we will be left behind.”

More and more, teachers and parents are in a state of panic over academic preparedness. It’s hard for both parents and teachers to resist this pressure, which is coming from everywhere.

However, they have to realize that children will eventually learn to recognize letters and numbers, but learning how people work and what is in other peoples’ minds will give them a much deeper and more profound learning experience.

Ironically, parents who think they are helping their children by exposing them to flash cards with letters on them are doing less to help their children than parents who expose their children to pretend play, who read to them, and who talk with them.

Childhood is a magical time, and play creates learning experiences that are not always orderly and easily scheduled. So, let’s try to veer away from oversupplying our children with toys and gadgets that are attractively packaged and prepared because children do not need to invest anything of themselves in order to make play happen. Have you ever observed, for instance, how a toddler can spend more time playing with the box than with the toy that came in it?

Play will certainly benefit parents, too. Being spontaneous and having fun can relieve stress and create positive memories for both the parent and the child. And when your child is engaged and having fun, you can be assured that he or she is learning. Play is truly the work of childhood!

Source: Dr. Alison Gopnik, “The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life” (2009; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

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