Freedom To Play
Early Childhood Play Time Builds Strong Foundations for Learning
As a junior kindergarten teacher, I have parents ask me all the time, “So do the children just play all day?” I want to answer, “If I am doing my job well they are!”
Over my 25 years in early education, I have seen unstructured play time in pre-school settings become the exception rather than the norm. Children who are hurried from one activity to the other may receive a good deal of sensory input but not gain an understanding of the experience. During unstructured play, children build their social skills and develop emotional maturity by learning ways to express and cope with feelings. A child may be very bright, but if they cannot get along with others and break down in frustration, it will be hard for them to work in small groups in the formal classroom setting.
Unstructured play means messes. It makes me very sad when I hear children say, “My mommy does not want me to get dirty.” Children are naturally curious and will explore toys, paint, play dough, goop. They are engaged in the learning process as they mix the play dough, creating a new color, or they paint their fingers and discover that their fingers can make different shapes on the paper.
Too often, structure dictates that the sky must be blue and the grass must be green. Children love to explore the materials available to them and to create something based on their own feelings and ideas. Art should be a process, not a cookie cutter product. Research shows that when children are free to create, they develop unique brain connections that will have long-term impact on their lives.
Childhood is such a short time but so very important! The day will come when the princess tiaras will collect dust and little ones will no longer believe they can fly. It will be bittersweet! But because of the opportunities they were given to cultivate curiosity through unstructured play, children will see things differently and be able to observe the world around them with excitement and anticipation.
The best I can hope for is that each group of students I teach will leave my classroom as imaginative, creative, confident learners who can think critically because I gave them the opportunity to explore the world around them.