Monday, November 8, 2010

Don't Forget to Play

The Child Care Connection is a resource center for daycare providers and early childhood educators. I receive their newsletter and wanted to share an article with you about-

"The Importance of Play in Early Childhood"

Carol M. Tiggelaar, MA, LCPC Early Childhood Behavioral Consultant

Play is so vital to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child. However, its value has been diminished by the promotion of hundreds of 'smart baby products' and the misconception that the earlier children begin to master the basic elements of reading such as phonics and letter recognition, the more likely they are to succeed in school. And so kindergarten has become heavily focused on teaching literacy and other academic skills and preschool is rapidly following suit. Our society has been lead to believe that play is a waste of time. As a result, directors and teachers are feeling more and more pressure to focus on the the 3 R's and limit unstructured play.

Play is the most effective and powerful way for young children to learn. Often it is said that play is the work of children, the primary method for them to learn about themselves, others and their world, scientists have found evidence that play can sculpt the brain and build denser webs of neural connections. This means, when we play we literally exercise our brain cells. The nerve cells in the brain actually thicken and grow as we play.

Following is a summary of some of the serious learning that happens during play (this is adapted from the Your Active Child: How to Boost Physical, Emotional and Cognitive Development through Age Appropriate Activity, Rae Pica (McGraw-Hill, 2003)

1. Blocks and other building materials encourage creativity, reproduce places and experiences in a child's world, develop eye-hand coordination and motor control, encourages discovery and mastery of mathematical and scientific findings for the child.

2. Cooking activities develop small motor coordination and introduce pre-math and reading readiness.

3. Dramatic play encourages the child to try various roles, to interact appropriately with peers and to practice social verbal communication.

4. Play with plants, animals and other things in the natural environment encourages an understanding of the world of nature.

5. Unstructured art activities provide a way for the child to express feelings and ideas. They assist in the development of fine motor control and skills in handling tools.

6. Manipulatives encourage eye-hand coordination and the seeing of similarities and differences in color, size and shape. They also help develop visual memory, practice classification and individual activity and self-reliance.

7. Water and sand play provides the opportunity to develop small muscle coordination and eye-hand coordination. It also provides for cooperation and stimulates verbal communication. It helps regulate mood.

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