Play is how children learn, and how they form a foundation for life in society. Play is how children explore, discover, fail and succeed, socialize, flourish and thrive. Play is the foundation of childhood.
In 1930, a White House conference of 3,000 childhood development experts from around the United States issued “The Children’s Charter,” a declaration of national policy which stated that every child, “wherever he may live under the protection of the American flag,” has “the right of comradeship, of play, and of joy,” the right to a community that “provides him with safe and wholesome places to play and recreation,” and the right to “wholesome physical and mental recreation, with teachers and leaders adequately trained.”
In a quest to prepare children for the future, we are taking childhood away from our children. In the name of “education reform,” we are standardizing and squandering our children’s futures. None of this is helping the healthy development and learning of children. Instead, we are overwhelming many of our children with anxiety, toxic stress, wasted effort, and relentless, sedentary screen time.
While we seem to realize that some babies get their teeth earlier (and that this has nothing to do with later eating habits, appetite, or body mass index), we seem not to accept that babies develop cognitively at different rates. Nor do we seem to recognize that cognitive development cannot be teased out and isolated from other aspects of human development.
Every student is gifted and talented in their own way, but sometimes these gifts are hidden or take time to be discovered and flourish.
…as they piece together all the available experiments, experiences and evidence, teachers, researchers, and parents are discovering a provocative solution to the question of how to improve our schools: children should play more.
There is enormous social pressure on parents for their kids not just to be the best they can be, but to be on a par with, if not demonstrably better than, their peers.
Companies capitalize on parents’ anxiety that toddlers need to learn the alphabet and numbers before they enter preschool. Education professor Diane Levin thinks parents are sold a bill of goods. “They think that a child who knows his alphabet at age three is smart, and that’s another belief that these companies exploit,” she said. “These toys can actually hurt children’s development of the very skills they purport to teach.”
Children are biologically engineered for constant intellectual and physical play. They are designed to question, daydream, pretend, arrange block towers and doll houses, wiggle, fidget, run, jump, laugh, cry, be frustrated, be absorbed, be bored, be creative, and, above all, to be different.
The real risk is that children won’t explore or challenge themselves. If they know how to self-assess and minimize risk, they can be lifelong explorers, confident in their own abilities.
Movement is part of motor development, but it influences other developmental domains as well. Emotional development is affected by movement, including self-awareness, self-regulation, and impulse control. Social development also relies on impulse control, including controlling aggression as well as an ability to understand nonverbal communication. None of this development can happen without movement, and the more movement allowed or encouraged for children, the more likely it is that they will experience positive social and emotional development.
Children gain a lot from risk, including confidence. Too often we try to boost children’s confidence by heaping praise on them. But saying “Good job!” a hundred times is fairly meaningless compared to letting a child climb a tree or run up a slide. The challenge followed by the accomplishment (maybe after several tries) is much more fulfilling.