If you want your child to learn and to be better prepared for life, let it play. Unfortunately children today have a very busy schedule and do not play as much as in former times and lose much time in front of screens (for me this is not to play, see also this post). I would like to relate in this post about the importance of play for a child´s development and provide research based on this topic (very interesting TED videos) mixed with my own observations and opinion.
Babies and children learn naturally playing, but unfortunately we forget when we grow up and fact is that children today have less and less time to play.
Maybe you have to promote a daily dosage of play like the slogan “5 a day!”, which means 5 servings of fruit and vegetables to be eaten daily for a healthy diet. Like: “Have you played your 5 dosis today already?” It is definitely important enough to have associations and the government promote it. So, let us start with my post to promote time for free play and I share some insights from specialists in this field commingled with my own opinion to illustrate its importance.
We must create more awareness that it is very important for a child´s development to have time to play and it is a very powerful weapon for learning. In the Nordic countries (including Finland which is the best example for an educational system that works) children only play games, sing and craft during kindergarden and even in primary school there are still quite a lot of hours reserved for play and crafts. Same with my education in Germany. I had lots of time to play and observe, sometimes not doing much without time pressure (I spent hours looking for four-leaf clovers in the lawn, chasing butterflies and looking at clouds interpreting their shapes) and crafts had a very important role as well. Why do 3-year-old kids have to spend hours and hours learning to write, if the child is not yet ready for it, and only gets frustrated and loses valuable time that could devote to play?
With 3 year they have to start writing and reading spending endless hours doing an effort to learn something they are not ready for yet and they would learn quickly a little later. I do not think that children starting soon with their “academic curriculum” will develop to be smarter rather I am convinced of the contrary… They will be less motivated and lose the curiosity they naturally have. Unfortunately this means that they have less time to play at home and at school, although there is enough evidence across studies that play is essential for the development of children and their skills. I started going to school with 5 years old, I started writing and reading with 6 years, finished school at one o’clock every day and did not do homework until 10 years and have not developed so badly…
I think it even discourages children that learn naturally, if they have to sit in school hours on a chair and “paint” their name when they are 3 years old. My daughters brought huge paper mountains home when they began to write their name that put it in evidence. They wrote first above written capital letters (thankfully their name is not Elisabeth Victoria or longer…), then joining the dots and finally writing their names alone. I am very sad thinking of the waste of valuable time, which unfortunately cannot be recovered. All these lost hours for play, movement and imagination. Have a look how are some nursery schools in Germany and compare them with kindergarten here: it is true that this place is very well designed and is the exception, but usually you find open areas with plenty of room for play and not schools for little kids with desks and chairs to be seated most of the time.
In Spain children often stay until 5 p.m. in school and even some parents ask for homework for their children in kindergarten. I swear I do not exaggerate as I experienced it when the twins were little. I listened to the requests of parents with disbelief and the questions they asked in meetings at school. It is surreal, absurd and counterproductive. I find it regrettable that in a “WORK” day of small children in kindergarten and at school (it is like a workday starting early and ending late with the strict schedules of assignments, projects and breaks in between), it is not enough time to do all what needs to be done, but children bring homework home and have to keep on working in the afternoon preparing the next day. When will they have time to play freely??
There is a really good talk by Tim Brown on TED that I want to recommend to you. He talks about the importance of play for learning and that it enhances creativity.
There are three “fields” of play: exploration, construction and role play - I chose some photographs to document these different types of play.He describes how children and adults play, but the talk focuses on giving more playing opportunities to adults in the business world to enhance creativity. I believe that what is true for adults is even more so for children.
Tim Brown: Tales of creativity and play
Another highly recommended talk is by Stuart Brown. A pioneer in research on play, Stuart Brown says humor, games, roughhousing, flirtation and fantasy are more than just fun. Plenty of play in childhood makes for happy, smart adults — and keeping it up can make us smarter at any age.
Dr. Stuart Brown came to research play through research on murderers — unlikely as that seems — after he found a stunning common thread in killers’ stories: lack of play in childhood. Since then, he has interviewed thousands of people to characterize their relationships with play, noting a strong correlation between success and playful activity. His book “Play” describes the impact play can have on one’s life. With the support of the National Geographic Society and Jane Goodall, he observed animal play in the wild. He became acquainted with the premier animal play experts in the world, and began to see play as a long evolved behavior important for the well-being and survival of animals. He subsequently came to understand that humans are uniquely designed by nature to enjoy and participate in play throughout life. Now, through his organization, the National Institute for Play he hopes to expand the study of human play into a vital science — and help people everywhere enjoy and participate in play throughout life.
Dr. Stuart Brown says that play is more than fun
In the recently published TED talk, Dr. Peter Gray, psychologist and research professor at Boston College, brings attention to the reality that over the past 60 years in the United States there has been a gradual but, overall dramatic decline in children’s freedom to play with other children, without adult direction. Over this same period, there has been a gradual but, overall, dramatic increase in anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness, suicide, and narcissism in children and adolescents. Based on his own and others’ research, Dr. Gray documents why free play is essential for children’s healthy social and emotional development and outlines steps through which we can bring free play back to children’s lives. Dr. Peter Gray is also author of several books (Free to learn) and of a regular blog entitled Freedom to Learn, for Psychology Today Magazine, which is very interesting to read.
Dr. Peter Gray: The Decline of Play and Rise of Mental Disorders
The children of today do not have time to play and move, which is vital for the development of their balance and core strength and finally for concentration and learning. Please have a look at the very interesting post about the link between ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder) and the lack of movement of kids. As I said previously in kindergarten our twins at age 3 were sitting for long periods of time “writing” their names losing precious time for movement and play.
The conclusion of above mentioned post is: In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention. In order to pay attention, we need to let them move. At the end it is all connected… I am also preparing a post about the consequences of the use of tablets and other screens at all times – stay tuned!
What we must do, parents, teachers, educational facilities and finally the governments is to create more spaces for free play for our children and not deprive them of their status as a child, which is a true treasure.
We are robbing their childhood!
I ask you: ¿Did your child already have its 5 doses of play today??
How do you like the idea to promote play opportunities using the concept of 5 a day?