‘Play is FUNdamental’ for children’s learning, development

Photo courtesy Seeds of Learning
Play gives children opportunities to understand the world, interact with others in social ways, express and control emotions, and develop their symbolic skills.

By Terri Hardeman
Special to The SUN
“Play is FUNdamental.”
These are the words of author Janet Brown McCracken, whose many books and articles pertain to children’s learning and development.
She states that children’s time has so many demands placed upon it: piano practice, homework, helping around the house, swimming lessons and soccer practice.
While a few structured activities are part of growing up, parents and teachers need to make sure that young children have lots of time to play, a safe space to play in and friendly people to play with. Play is indeed FUNdamental for children.
One guidebook, “Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs” (published by National Association for the Education of Young Children), states that play gives children opportunities to understand the world, interact with others in social ways, express and control emotions and develop their symbolic skills. Play provides a way for children to practice newly acquired skills. These may be language skills, social skills, motor skills, intellectual or problem-solving skills. Children express and represent their ideas, thoughts and feelings when engaged in play. Through play, children also can develop their imaginations and creativity.
There are several stages of play and most often correspond to a child’s age. Young infants (birth to 9 months) engage in sensory play. Touching and manipulating a variety of objects with hands, feet and mouth give infants much information about objects and the world around them. Mobile infants (9 to 18 months) engage in exploratory play. Opening and shutting, filling and dumping, and picking up and dropping are activities that challenge infants’ motor skills and their ideas about objects.
Toddlers (18 months to 3 years) engage in solitary play exploring toys on their own. Their play may consist of hammering, investigating how a toy operates, pulling, pushing or rolling toys. As toddlers move into parallel play, they play next to another child but with different toys. They may watch one another and later imitate what the other child was doing with his toys. An example is two children playing in the sandbox. One child is making roads and pushing his cars, while another is making a birthday cake using sticks for the candles.
At 3 to 4 years of age, children begin to engage in give and take while at play. In cooperative play, children build blocks together, dress dolls, make sand castles or play in the kitchen. Children talk to one another about what they are doing or planning.
At ages 4 and 5, children are fully into dramatic play. They are able to play in small groups and may play games with simple rules. Their play may have themes such as picnic, house, wedding or camping with children choosing a role.
Play is a part of life. From playing with dolls to playing tennis, from pedaling a tricycle to catching a fish, children and adults love to play. While play is indeed fun for all of us, it has a special role in childhood. Play is essential for children to learn.
The children at Seeds of Learning play all day. In the Dragonfly class (ages 2 1/2 to 3 1/2), the children play in the kitchen and play with blocks, cars and toy animals. They are discovering math and science relationships as they play. In the Ladybug class (ages 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 ), the children play with puzzles, cars and train sets. They play next to each other and together. They like the dress-up center. The children talk to each other about what they’re doing.
In the Butterfly class (ages 4 1/2 to 5 — pre-K), the children engage in group play. In their dramatic play, the children take roles and even use different voices. The children are serious in assigning roles down to the role of dog and cat.
Their teacher, Miss Ruby, reports that through their play, the children imitate the actions of adults, demonstrate problem solving, exercise anger management and correctly identify feelings.
Miss Ruby states that play is important “because it teaches our children how to be great community members: moms, dads, firemen, policemen, doctors …”