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Playing to Learn

Susan Notes: A note from a parent asking my to post an article about play provoked me to mention a new book on what play looks like in the schoolyard as well as Elizabeth Goodenough's important award-winning film.

Here's some good news:

Playing for Keeps: Life and Learning on a Public School Playground by Deborah Meier, Brenda S. Engel, and Beth Taylor

Three experienced and wise educators have written a book that reveals for us the essence of childhood. In the barren days of racing to the top, this engaging book reminds us of what education could so easily be.
-Eleanor Duckworth, Harvard University, author of The Having of Wonderful Ideas and other Essays on Teaching and Learning, Third Edition

Why is play important in the lives of children? What crucial aspects of learning are being neglected in the current near-elimination of recess time in public schools? Playing for Keeps, co-authored by the well-known writer and educational leader Deborah Meier, and two colleagues with equally long experience in schools, explores these questions. Based on close observations on a public school playground, the book shows children at play in a relatively natural, unstructured environment.

The reader is virtually there, seeing, listening in, able to appreciate the children's curiosity, humor, intelligence, and inventiveness. Readers will recognize the children's voices and ways of thinking, and perhaps be reminded of their own childhood, their own children, or the children they teach. The authors comment on the observations, adding to the reader's own perceptions. This lively, engaging book makes a strong case for the importance of free exploration, wonder, imagination, and play to the learning and growth of children. It should contribute significantly to the understanding of all those concerned, professionally or personally, with the welfare of our school-age population.

Reader Comment: For a beautiful, detailed portrait of attention to play and its role in meaningful teaching and learning, treat yourself to Playing for Keeps. This book provides a detailed and rich portrait of the cognitive and social value of play at Mission Hill School, a public elementary and middle school in Boston, and offers thoughtful ways for adults and kids to integrate play and learning with a particular focus on outdoors discovery and the delights of kids imaginations.

If you haven't seen this film, you should.

Education reformers should put children's free play at the top of their agendas. To that end, consider showing Elizabeth Goodenough's award-winning film Where do the children play? at PTA meetings (and faculty meetings too). The film was shown on PBS a few years ago and is available for $19.95. The hefty (and valuable) companion book is $27.95.

Parent Recommendation

Here's an article on play--submitted by a visitor to this site--that offers a number of helpful resources for parents. I would offer a cautionary note. Although it is quite necessary and wonderful for parents to play with their children, those children needs lots of free, self-directed playtime--where they are figuring out what to do and how to do it.

People Who Play: The importance Of Childhood Adventures

The importance of play in the life of an average child can simply not be understated. Play is a fundamental concept in even the animal world, where, for instance, puppies chase their own tails and younger birds flit through the air. Play is not only an essential part of life for children, but it is also believed by researchers to help children get to their full potential in life. The reason researchers think this is important is because play supposedly helps to promote connections in the brain. Aside from this, play is also good exercise, which aids the physical health of children. The following will touch on the various types of play, skills that are developed from play, and the bad effects that occur due to a sedentary lifestyle.

Types Of Play

Children engage in many various types of play, so adults should be aware of this. During the course of an average day, younger children can very well change from one type of play to another type. At times, children will change the toys they are playing with because, naturally, change stimulates various and new types of play. As a rule, there are about six types of play that are recognized.

The first type of play is discovery play, which empowers children to find out about objects, such as the size, shape, color and feel of building blocks. The second type of play is physical play, which is essentially a form of exercise. The third type of play is called creative play, and this is when children create something original, like a picture or drawing, to express themselves. The fourth type of play is imaginative play, when children pretend to be someone else, such as a wrestler they have seen on TV, for instance. The fifth type of play is called manipulative play, which occurs when, for instance, babies play with rattles and feel it in their hands. The final type of play is social play, which is when children play with each other.

Skills Developed Through Play

Children who play can expect to learn different skills early on in life that will be useful for the rest of their natural lives. The three skills that children who play learn are cognitive development skills, motor skills and social skills. Games that are examples of cognitive development games are favorites like Bop It and Monopoly, because both of these encourage children to deal with problem-solving skills and making decisions. Motor skills come naturally to children since they are some of the first skills they learn in their lives. The development of these motor skills, however, can be encouraged by the games like Hopscotch; games that involve a lot of throwing are also great examples of motor skills-development games. The final skills developed though play are the all-important social skills. These come from dealing with other children and having to engage in activities that involve sharing and learning teamwork.

Negative Effects Of A Sedentary Lifestyle

A sedentary lifestyle is defined as one where children fail to get anything close to enough exercise by way of sitting around too much. Examples of activities children can do that cause them to sit excessively are watching TV or playing video games like Xbox 360. The negative effects of this kind of sedentary lifestyle are mainly physical, with already widespread problems such as childhood obesity taking further root in children. Other negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle can also be more mental or emotional, such as the lack of social skills because children are in front of the TV instead of out playing with other children.

The importance of play in the life of children is very high, as research supports the benefits that play provides for children in their development. Play in the lives of children comes in many different types, with as many as six different types of play being identified by researchers as types of play that children engage in. The benefits of play in the lives of children are plenty, with motor skills, cognitive development skills and social skills being just some of the benefits of play in the lives of children. Aside from the emotional and developmental skills that play in the lives of children provides, play also provides practical benefits such as physical exercise, which simply means healthier children. On the flipside, if children do not get enough play in their lives, they are in danger of developing a sedentary lifestyle, which sees them sitting in front of the TV too much, as an example. This sedentary lifestyle can lead to numerous health problems, chief among them being obesity.

To learn more about children and play, see these links.

Tips: This website provides tips on how parents can engage their children in play.
Why Play is Important: This website explains why play is needed in children̢۪s lives.
How Children Learn Though Play (PDF): This website offers information on how children learn through playing.
Children and Play: This website explains why play is important in the lives of children.
Playing, Not Competition (PDF): This website looks at how children should play for the sake of playing and not competition.
Learning Though Playing (PDF): This website informs parents that playing can lead to children learning.

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