The Importance of Play in Learning and Development

March 22nd, 2019

Five year old Josie is dressed in an orange dress-up construction vest, working with her friend Sam to see how tall they can stack the large wooden blocks in their preschool classroom. Josie pauses and runs to the art area. She grabs a piece of paper and writes “DANGR ZON” and runs back to the block area with her sign and some tape. She stands on a chair and tapes her sign to the highest block. Sam asks, “What’s that say?” Josie replies, “Danger zone! Let’s make it higher.” Sam hands Josie another block and she stacks it at the very top. As they try to put another block on the tower it all comes crashing down.

To most people this looks and sounds like two kids playing with blocks. But it’s much more than that. Josie and Sam are learning how to work together, how to write and read words, how to solve a problem, and the physics of building and balance. And they are deeply engaged in their learning. 

Adults often think of children’s play as frivolous and a break from real learning. Play can certainly be delightfully without aim and a way for children and adults to take a break from the demands of life, but play is really the highest form of learning no matter what your age. For children, it is absolutely essential to their development.

In fact, play is the way children learn best. For children, play is critical to their cognitive, physical, social and emotional development. Play encourages experimentation, the researching of ideas, and risk-taking, all of which are vital to learning and making new discoveries. Through play children learn how to negotiate with others and develop an understanding of viewpoints that differ from their own. They challenge their bodies and minds to try something new and they learn from the skills and abilities of their playmates.

As educators, our role is to cultivate a love of learning. We do that best by being carefully attuned to children’s interests and needs, offering materials and opportunities that encourage them to explore and challenge their thinking through thoughtful questioning of ideas and giving children the time and space to try, fail, and try again.

In PACCC programs the importance of play is viewed central to the rights of every child and essential to their well-being and development. Play is not something that happens when learning is done. Play is learning in action.


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