500 Words

500 Words On...Play

Kathy Irvin
Director of the Early Childhood Program and
Junior Kindergarten Teacher
April 2015
For us, play is a respite from our labors. But watch the children. Play is their labor. As we watch them, it is hard to imagine that play is serious business, but it is how they grow, develop and learn.  

In fact, play is about learning. Children mature socially and develop essential skills through play. Their brains are on fire as they investigate, think, socialize, question, create and problem-solve. Certainly these are all skills they will need in our rapidly changing world. Through play, children develop healthy, meaningful relationships. Children learn the social skills of sharing, cooperating, negotiating and compromising. Children “work” at the give-and-take, back-and-forth, sharing of ideas and feelings. They learn to manage strong emotions and impulses, and to navigate the often messy unpredictable circumstances they face in life with one another. Learning to risk, to trust and to ask for help are valuable life skills that they learn through play. And, through this play, they learn to step outside of their wants and needs and take on the perspective of others.

Through various forms of guided play, children acquire literacy, mathematical, scientific and creative skills. Step into the senior kindergarten class at North Shore Country Day during their unit on Homes and you will find young engineers at “play.” Small groups of children build shelters about which they have learned through fiction and nonfiction, through videos, and through the rich discussions, these types of materials generate. One group designs homes using cardboard boxes, all sizes and shapes; another uses wooden blocks; the water table group plays with sand, driftwood, water and paper leaves; other children drape long tables in sheets of paper using huge amounts of tape; small heads bend over drawings, busy hands create blueprint designs for their dream shelters. You hear young voices sharing creative ideas and negotiating exciting outcomes. And after the play, you witness a whole group discussion on what turns a shelter into a home leading to strong opinions on what is a “need” versus a “want.”
All play, guided or not, stimulates the imagination, stimulates engagement in make-believe, stimulates discovery of the world around them. We see evidence all around us. Under trees on the playground, sticks, leaves, bark, mud and pedals have been carefully arranged by kindergarteners—a fairy kingdom left for a new group of adventurers. In the house corner of the classroom, children dress in costumes “trying on” identities and collaborate to set the table for an animal party. Cars and trucks zoom around as children work to design and build a city out of cardboard tubes and bottle caps. The results: vibrant, imaginative stories.

All children are born to labor at play. And, play creates happiness and balance in life for all of their days.  In play, they discover who they really are.