When you think back on your childhood, what do you remember? Hopefully you have some memories of your earliest impressions of the world and the people around you. Early childhood is defined as the period of time from birth through age eight. This is a time of constant growth and change. In the span of a few short years, children grow from complete dependence and minimal knowledge of the world to a desire for independence and many strategies and tools for comprehending their environments. From their first breaths, children are attempting to make sense of the world around them. The mode through which children begin to learn information is play.
Play is critical to a child’s development and too many schools are removing play from the educational equation. I spend my days with some of our youngest learners, 3-6 year olds. It is amazing to watch them problem-solve through play, make observations about the world and how it works, and develop effective communication skills. Learning isn’t all about academic skills and memorizing facts. Children need time to experiment, fail, try again, and succeed. The most natural way for this to occur is in a playful environment. I am not suggesting that this play is unstructured. Teachers must provide a supportive environment with materials that encourage playful learning.
Back to my initial question in this post: What do I remember when I think back on my childhood? I spent a lot of time playing as a child. In the summer, we stayed home during the day and played. I had a playhouse in the backyard that was my favorite retreat. My friend, Chad, and I often played hotel. We did role-playing often, but we also developed a system to get water into the playhouse without going outside. I also loved to play “radio station” with my sister. We were the commentators and disk jockeys, and sometimes even the singers! I also remember learning a lot about money playing Monopoly. We played dress up and Barbies, creating elaborate scenarios. My sister and I even wrote a musical when I was in fourth grade and we presented it in a “dinner theater” in our basement for my parents. I have lots of wonderful memories of play as a child. None of them involve TV and they all required TIME. Interestingly (and perhaps sadly), none of these memories involve school.
Here is a quote that I so appreciate as a teacher, play advocate, and life-long player:
“We need to stop hurrying children. Our school days require time. Time to wonder, time to pause, time to pay attention to what is most important. In school, we must give children the time they need to learn. To hurry through the day, to hurry through classes, grades and a timetable of achievements, is contrary to the nature of children and will do irreparable damage to their minds and souls.” ~Chip Wood (Northeast Foundation for Children) – from the book Time to Teach, Time to Learn.