April 4, 2017 Carol Miller

The Role of Play in Development and Public Policy


Many government leaders, certain charitable foundations and other do not realize the benefit of play and have unintentionally relegated play as unnecessary in public policy. The role of play in kids development and public policy can not be understated. The government establishes guidelines that schools across the nation implement and these guidelines can have an adverse impact on childhood development.

Play is how kids learn. Play is a child’s work where toys and games are utilized as tools – it is supposed to be a pleasure filled activity. Many parents are, anxious for their children to succeed in school, many believe that early care and education programs where children sit at tables using worksheets, drills, and flash cards to learn letters and numbers and even starting to read, add, and subtract drives academic success long term.

Play is essential to early learning

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Preschoolers learn differently from school-age children and play is essential to early learning. Play is the main way children learn and develop ideas about the world. Play helps them build the skills necessary for critical thinking and leadership. It’s how they learn to solve problems and to feel good about their ability to learn.

Children learn the most from play when they have skilled teachers who are trained in understanding how play contributes to learning.

Most child development experts agree that play is an essential part of a high-quality early learning program. Play is not a break from learning – it’s the way young children learn.

Play is not a break from learning – it’s the way young children learn.

school boys 271070 960 720 300x225 - The Role of Play in Development and Public PolicyThree studies, which followed children for years, demonstrated that taxpayers saved at least $2.69 for every dollar spent on high-quality early learning programs, by reducing special education, law-enforcement, and other costs.

In all these programs, “child-initiated” play activities were necessary; these teachers used children’s interests and activities to guide learning. Kids got to choose from age appropriate play activities, rather than spending all their time following a regimented schedule. Several studies have shown that children learn more from educational activities that support their own interests and ideas.

Some researchers have found evidence that too much teacher-directed activity undermines young children’s self-confidence and motivation to learn.

Play promotes school success in many ways

Researchers are finding more and more connections between children’s play and the learning and social development that helps them succeed in school.

For example, pretend play helps children learn to think abstractly and to look at things from someone else’s perspective. Pretend play is also connected to early literacy, mathematical thinking, and problem-solving. Kids need to develop and use their imaginations and play allows them to do so.

Play allows kids to:

• Test developing ideas with objects, people, and situations – the key ability for academic learning
• Develop many kinds of skills together – physical, social, emotional, thinking, and language
• Do things they are interested in, so they have a natural motivation to learn
• Develop concepts and skills together. For example, as a child learns to write the letters in her name, she is also learning the concept that each letter represents a sound. And she is very motivated by the meaning—her own name! Children are more likely to remember skills and concepts they have learned by doing things that are meaningful to them
• Learn from other children and develop social skills by playing together

Play promotes school success

kid 1041549 1920 200x300 - The Role of Play in Development and Public PolicyIf children can use one thing to represent something else, it’s easier for them to understand that letters represent sounds and numbers represent quantities. In doing so, they will be able to their imaginations to visualize historical events or scientific ideas.

Using language and telling stories

By using their imagination in play, kids develop their skills in using language and in telling and understanding stories. Oral language skills and storytelling are the building blocks of reading and writing, as well as subjects like social studies and science.

Play leads to experimentation and logic

When kids play with materials such as blocks, clay, sand, or water, they develop skills in logic. They experiment with cause and effect, with counting and sorting things and solving problems. This play allows kids to develop skills in experimenting, observing, comparing, and working with shapes, sizes, and quantities forms the basis for understanding math and science and for all higher-order thinking.

Play develops self-control and social skills

As children share materials and play together, they learn to cooperate, listen to others, stand up for their own ideas, handle frustration, and empathize. Many studies have shown that kids with good social skills and emotional health do better in school and are more likely to avoid unsafe behavior as teenagers. Through play, kids develop their ability to form relationships with other children, adults and with teachers.

Learning to enjoy learning

fun face girl 300x265 - The Role of Play in Development and Public PolicyWhen children do activities they have chosen, learning is enjoyable. It’s based on their interests and gives them a sense of competence. Studies show that children’s attitudes of curiosity, motivation, and competence are essential to success in elementary school.

The teacher role in play-based learning

Kids learn more through play when they have well-trained teachers who know how to respond to, guide and extend their play to increase learning. Because play is so important to developing the skills, concepts, and approaches children will use throughout their lives, public policy should support early education that emphasizes play. Parents and childcare providers need to urge policymakers to do so.

group play 300x200 - The Role of Play in Development and Public PolicyParents role in driving the benefits of play

• Parents should provide toys that kids can use in a variety of ways: blocks, paper and crayons, dolls and toy animals, balls, play dough, and similar.

• Encourage kids to play with ordinary household objects like pots and pans and outdoor materials like sticks and grass

• Provide simple toys and activities that encourage children to be active and use their imaginations, not to watch while the toy does tricks.

• Play with their children, ask them questions about their play and why they are doing things in their various play activities, and point out things you notice in the environment of play.

• Search out childcare and preschool programs where children learn through play.

Play is the primary tool for a child to learn; it is not a waste of time or energy but a critical development opportunity for both parents and children.

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