No matter what the situation or how far removed we were are from normal life, let’s encourage our children to play.
The games kids play are not nonsense: they’re full of cultural meaning; they help children (and coyotes, and gorillas) develop empathy; they encourage resilience; they help motor development; and they help children work through their feelings around otherwise unsettling events, like a global pandemic, productively.
Play is even used as therapy for kids who have lived through monstrous trauma, because it can help children regulate their anxiety, give them a sense of control over their lives, and ultimately help them feel safe.
To help, we’ve spelled out the meaning of play with the acronym “P.L.A.Y.”
P: Problem-based learning
Whenever a child plays, they are seeking to solve a problem.
Just watch your child at play and see if you can figure out what problem is being solved. Is it how to make the puzzle pieces fit? How to make the block tower stand? How to convince baby brother to be a dog for the fifth day in a row? This type of problem-solving is a much more effective way to learn than more abstract teaching methods like worksheets.
Listen to the language that children use when they play together. When children play house or play store, they use sophisticated language that we don’t ordinarily hear from them in other non-play situations. They are the grown-ups now and their language reflects this. Vygotsky, the Russian psychologist said:
“In play, a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behaviour. In play, it is as though he were a head taller than himself.”
During play, children are motivated to read and write — writing notes, menus, tickets for theatre plays, signs that instruct others, like “don’t touch this.” It is where they see the meaning and function of print which helps to build a strong foundation for literacy learning.
A: Active environment
“A” stands for “active environment”. Active learning means hands-on, getting dirty, “face and eyes into it” type of play. It means using all the senses to learn and where the player gets to choose the play materials, the type of play, the play participants. It is when they get to be in charge. The role for adults is to provide the space, materials and opportunity and then see what happens.
Y: Young children
“Y” stands for “young children”. Children are fellow human beings with rights, including the right to play. Canada is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that declares children have the right to play. Play is just that important.
There are times in history that our rights and responsibilities as human beings come into clear focus. This is one of those times. Let children play.
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