The Context of Play

"Play is the highest form of research." ~Albert Einstein

"Play is often talked about as if it were relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. "
~Fred Rogers

Deep down we all know it's true. Play matters. Albert Einstein knew it, Fred Rogers knew it. Education has changed, society has changed. Human learning has not changed.
We get a new washer and dryer. What are the kids interested in? The boxes. They can play with it.
Sandbox, bucket, shovel = weight, gravity, matter, particle, area, density... to name a few (in the context of play).

We get a new phone, or an i-pad, or a computer. What do the device pro's tell us? Go home and play with it, that's how you'll learn all about it!
Play. Permission to play. When we play on these devices and we learn, what do we feel? Joy!
This is not to say that typical instructional methods should be sacrificed, and that kids should just play all day, of course not. It is, however, to say that purposeful play has an important, meaningful and powerful role in a balanced approach for best practices in the classroom.

                                        PLAY = JOY = LEARNING

I didn't make it up, we all know it's true, but somehow it has become a dirty word in the classroom. We sneak it in. We know how much they need it. We can see the connections they make and their little dendrites reproducing and multiplying. The problem with it? Most play doesn't provide data. Data.
Of course I use data, it has it's place, but I do not live and die by it. For me, and I'm sure for you,  it is one piece of the whole child. Play can involve serious learning. Just because something is not necessarily measurable, does not mean it is not valuable.

Play evokes emotion. You can feel it. You can see it in their faces, you can hear it in their laughter and their voices. It is not rote. It is not flat. It is emotion, it creates schema for learning something new, or deeper, or better.

Hmm. Still no data to show evidence of the time spent impacting the learner. Very tricky. Maybe some of the best learning that ever takes place is NOT measurable, maybe the value it adds to the learner is immeasurable to the point of pricelessness. My best answer for that (in the classroom) is quality play. Play that allows for open-ended thinking while providing opportunity for growth within the context of a theme or area of study. Maybe the evidence is in the careful observation of the process.

If we are to create playful, joyful classrooms that provide opportunities for growth in the context of play, we must understand the why. Dr. Kyle Snow, NAEYC, shared a great synopsis of research done regarding the impact of play on children's development. (2012) Very interesting. It  makes me think so much of my daughter coming home from school and doing her homework everyday on her little whiteboard in my high heals"teaching her class" with her teacher voice on. (She did this for many years. She is now a thriving, articulate, happy, well-adjusted and well-rounded college student, go figure.)
This happened in my home. I would guess that most of my students living in the highly impoverished area where I teach do not have homes that facilitate play such as this. I know that they don't.

I can't make their homes different, I can't make that part of their lives better, but
I can continue to skillfully and intentionally provide opportunities everyday for enrichment through play for my 31 littles. I can advocate for it's importance.  I can continue to weave it in, facilitate activities and windows of time for playful, joyful, and meaningful learning to take place. I can print out this research and share it with anyone who asks. I can also print what Albert and Fred said and post it in my classroom.
I can also share it with you.  :o)

                                     Play: Little Bird Kindergarten Free Printables


  1. Love this and absolutely agree. We must keep play, or put it back in...but how do we get the word to the powers that be??? Kathleen at Kidpeople Classroom

  2. Thanks Kathleen! I wish I knew! All I know to do is to just keep advocating and be able to show research as to why it matters and facilitates growth. Thanks for reading, and thanks for your comment! Play on!

  3. Thank you for so perfectly describing the need for play. I'm a director at a preschool and we use a play based curriculum and it is getting harder to explain to explain to some parents what you have articulated so well. I would like permission to use your words to help convey the importance and value of play at preschool.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment Gaila. I would be honored for you to use my post to help provide insight to parents, thank you for asking permission! I hope it meets with good responses and generates thoughtful conversation with and among parents of your students. :o)


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