Children have the right to play! As simple as that idea might seem, it’s an ideal not always easy to achieve. In an era when societal and educational pressures threaten experiences that contribute to healthy development, play sometimes takes a back seat. Therefore, it becomes important to remind ourselves that preserving and celebrating the wonder of childhood through play helps in the nurturing of children’s self-discovery and promoting their authentic joy in learning.
This was the message of a Lesley early childhood workshop, “Cultivating Play-Friendly Communities,” which focused on how to infuse play into the school day without sacrificing learning.
David Ramsey, program director in the Boston Public Schools Early Childhood Department, stressed that play is a fundamental right of all children. Furthermore, as our country’s youngest citizens, children deserve safe, enjoyable play and play spaces. Benefits of play, besides pure enjoyment for children, extend into cognitive, social/emotional, language, and physical development.
Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Lesley professor emerita and author of several well-known books on childhood, urged teachers and parents to remove obstacles to play, such as various modes of technology, so that children have unfettered access to their own imaginations. Technology has its place, but so does freedom from it. Dr. Carlsson-Paige shared striking images of young children and products for young children, in which technology eclipses creative, imaginative kinesthetic experiences.
Anna Housley Juster, an early childhood consultant and one of the core team at Pop-Up Adventure Play, which fosters children’s play through collaborations with institutions, play kits, and workshops. She treated the audience to their own time to play with recyclable materials. Participants had fun creating fanciful objects. Lisa Fiore, professor of early childhood at Lesley, said that when play time was over, participants were asked for their reflections on the activity. “One participant had been purposely interrupted by Anna, who suggested she try something else, to demonstrate how teachers can inadvertently hinder children’s play. When asked how that felt, the participant said that she had been quite involved in what she was doing and that the intervention stifled her creative play." It was a valuable lesson.
How to Foster Children's Play
It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes it’s not easy to just let children be themselves at play. Here are a few ways to foster creativity:
Make time. Realize that play is important to children’s physical, mental, and emotional development, and make time for it.
Make space. Let children play on their own. Be nearby, but not with them unless invited. As mentioned above, don’t interrupt or intervene--unless it’s a safety issue.
Limit electronics. Electronics have their own place in play and learning, but allow for some time when children can interact only with their imaginations and other children.
Provide materials. Have blocks, cardboard boxes and tubes, cloth, and other simple materials that can be made into new things.
Let them get messy. Sometimes the best play is the messiest play. Mud, paint, sand, water, bubbles…let them go!
Recognize that work is going on. As children play, they are learning. Listen for new ideas and developing skills that you may be able to reinforce later.
Sometimes, you play, too. Take some time to play with children. Start a story and let them continue it, or help build something. Mostly, show an interest in what they’re doing, and ask questions.