Consider the skills and developmental accomplishments listed below. As you read through them, keep in mind the expectations and hopes we have for children to grow, develop, enter school, and be successful in life. Think about the skills deemed essential for citizens in the 21st century. Check out what the Common Core Standards expect of students in kindergarten. Then, look at how the accomplishments, abilities, and dispositions below map onto those sets of skills and standards.
• Try new and challenging tasks; solve problems; make predictions; draw conclusions; make comparisons; determine cause-and-effect; understand time; focus attention; develop symbolic capabilities; and practice new skills.
• Interact cooperatively with other children; befriend and trust others; express and control emotions; try on new roles; negotiate and solve problems.
• Develop large and fine motor skills.
• Think flexibly; examine new options; extend ideas; improvise; make up rules; test materials.
• Manipulate the rhythm and rhyme, form and volume of sound.
What if you knew that children could develop the skills, dispositions, and competencies listed above through a time-tested strategy? What if that strategy were highly engaging, intrinsically rewarding, did not require specialized equipment, and didn’t rely on special training for adults to implement? What would you do?
This list summarizes many, but not all, of the skills and accomplishments children enjoy, practice, and benefit from through play. A large body of research* across several academic disciplines suggests that play promotes children’s cognitive, physical, and social-emotional development, cultivating internal resources, supporting positive developmental processes, and contributing to life outcomes.
Play is an efficient and pleasurable medium for building the life-long, life-deep, and life-wide foundation children need and will draw on again and again throughout school and life. Knowing that all children, regardless of background, are able to benefit from this strategy, what would you do differently? What would you start doing? What would you stop doing?
Below are just some of the resources and references with evidence of how play offers an ideal context for young children’s well-being; for development of their early literacy and oral language skills; of logical reasoning, and creative problem solving; and of social-emotional competence. Play as a strategy for success is no secret.
* Johnson, James E., James F. Christie and Francis Wardle (2005). Play, Development and Early Education. New York: Allyn & Bacon.
* Kieff, Judith E. and Casbergue, Renee M. (2000) Playful Learning and Teaching. Integrating Play into Preschool and Primary Programs. Pearson.
* Youngquist, Joan and Jann Pataray-Ching. (2004). “Revisiting Play: Analyzing and Articulating Acts of Inquiry.” Early Childhood Education Journal. 31:171-8.
* Drew, Walter; Johnson, J., Ersay, E., Christie, J., Cohen, L., Sharapan, H., Plaster, L., Quan Ong, N., Blandford, S. (2006). Block Play and Performance Standards: Using Unstructured Materials to Teach Academic Content.” Presentation at the National Association for the Education of Young Children.