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Learning to Play, Playing to Learn

As Fred Rogers so eloquently stated,“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

Play is a child’s laboratory. This is where children learn the skills of negotiation, problem solving, sharing, and working within groups. They move at their own pace and discover their own interests during play. Children practice and reinforce their learning in many areas during play. It gives them a place and a time for learning that cannot be achieved through worksheets.

Neuroscientists have discovered that child’s play sculpts the brain to be more adaptable later in life. In fact, studies have shown that free play is crucial for normal social, emotional and cognitive development. It makes us better adjusted adults.

Children are born to play. It is through play that they learn. Children's play unlocks their creativity and imagination, helping them develop reading, thinking, and problem solving skills as well as further developing their motor skills. It provides the foundation for learning. We wouldn’t consider building a structure without a strong foundation. A properly built foundation will keep the building supported, even during natural disasters. We can say the same about play. Child’s play is the foundation needed for future learning.

Recently, a preschool in Northern New Jersey reached out to us because they were having behavior issues. After visiting the school and meeting with the leadership and teachers, it became clear that they needed to play more and get rid of the worksheets. I coached this group of dedicated preschool teachers and helped them set up learning centers and schedule more play time into their day.

Through imaginative/dramatic play, children develop language skills. They learn to listen and use language to communicate. Open-ended, free play allows their creative juices to flow, enabling them to entertain themselves. Block and puzzle play encourages children’s mathematical thinking, giving them opportunities to solve complex problems and discover spatial relationships. Activities that involve fine motor and gross motor play will help build the skills necessary for future writing and using other tools. Through play, children learn how to share and wait their turn, which help with self-regulation and emotional regulation skills. Children learn as they play and they learn how to learn. It is imperative that we promote play and give children the time, space and materials to foster imaginative play.

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