We all hear that play is important for children. I know it’s important. It’s their work; how they learn to make friends, negotiate, solve problems with objects, and solve problems with other children. Play is having fun, and it’s also very hard work. Learning how to pump a swing and ride a bike is a mountain of a challenge. So is learning how to ask for a turn, and to stick up for yourself.
I stood back and watched children playing in our Dinosaur Den at school. The conversation was lively, and they wanted to make the dinosaurs talk with each other.
And they did!
Then a child asked me to take a picture of all the dinosaurs. They had worked so carefully to get the dinosaurs all set up, before a dinosaur dinner. Do you see the dinner, the multitude of rocks. carefully lined up? I couldn’t get all the dinosaurs in one photo, so I had to make a video. This was very important to the children.
And then it was time for the dinosaurs to have dinner.
Do you know how long it took children to line up all those rocks? Can you see how carefully children are feeding and taking care of the dinosaurs? Do you see how they are working together? They’re developing life skills.
Recently there was another great day of play. Children were delighting in the fallen leaves on the playground. Some children were running and chasing with leaves, others were intent on building and counting. Two children made up a game of trading and sorting leaves. Then, the play became a group experience. Children gathered together to play Ring Around the Rosie. No teacher guided them. No teacher intervened. We watched the play.
What happened here? Joy, team building, new friendships that just emerged, sharing, muscle development… and so much more.
Play = Life Skills.
Children who play can better attend at school.
Children who play have greater academic success.
Children who play make friends.
Children who play develop kindness, heart.
Children who play are problem solvers.
(This is just the tip of the iceberg, key parts of a long list.)
Therefore, children who play grow into adults who have the skills to become good citizens as well as good people. Isn’t that what’s most important?
But, there’s more!
Active outdoor play is also a brain stimulant, and helps children to process information. A classic example just happened. When we came back inside for Morning Meeting, the Helper of the Day (who had been very active on the playground equipment) was able to recognize and recite calendar numbers, including doing a tricky number challenge, with far more skill.
So, what is new outside that is adding to this?
We have just added two Whizzy Dizzies to the playground, and children are spinning and whizzing— and getting very dizzy. This play is incredibly important to both the body and the brain. In technical terms, spinning enhances vestibular stimulation so the brain can learn and process information. It helps children sense where their body is in space, and it gives them better coordination. The video below shows how much fun the children are having.
There are other important movements as well. Jumping, bending down to touch the ground, and turning around are excellent for motor AND brain development. I even made up a movement song that incorporates these movements. It’s not a surprise that it’s our most popular classroom song.
Here is something interesting: Finland ranks #1 in reading (e.g. education) in the world. Sadly, America ranks #26. At school in Finland, children have 10 minutes of lively activity within every hour at school. At home when children are using an iPad to play games and learn, active outdoor play beforehand makes a difference.
Mister Rogers said it best of all: “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
Cheers to play!