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The Importance of Play in Early Childhood

written by: Willa • edited by: Laurie Patsalides • updated: 4/5/2012

Whether it is an outdoor or indoor play area, it is necessary for the growth of the children to be self expressive in their play. This not only allows for physical growth, but emotional, social and cognitive development.

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    Positive Effects of Play

    Carefully planned opportunities for children to play has a positive effect on their growth and development in social abilities, skills and talents, self-esteem and problem solving skills.

    Improves Social Skills

    Social abilities are developed when the children interact during playtime. Centers provide a time for entertainment as well as learning to communicate with each other. By playing in small groups, the children learn to share and take turns and even express emotions. Set up a "school classroom" center and let the children take turns being the teacher or use the reading area to allow the children to "read" stories to each other. These examples are excellent ways for the kids to "come out of their shell' and develop their social abilities.

    Discovery of Skills & Talents

    Skills and talents may be developed, by introducing centers that provide an outlet for exposing interests a child may have. Drama or play acting is an excellent opportunity for a child to develop a hidden talent for acting, singing or playing a musical instrument. Plan a nursery rhyme or Bible story skit for the class to develop their acting skills. Use music time to introduce different instruments and songs for the children to interact with. Art may also be an outlet for discovering a child's special talent.

    Self Esteem

    Self esteem develops when opportunities are provided, whether in play time, centers, in morning circle, or during lesson time. A great way to begin the day is to allow the line leader for the day to be the "weather reporter". This gives everyone a chance to "feel" important or special. Occasionally, let a child lead the calendar routine. This discreetly helps them to get over insecurities.

    Problem Solving

    Problem solving develops when children are given opportunities to work in situations that need fixing or correcting. Centers provide multitudes of physical and mental problem solving opportunities. Situations often occur with disagreements and behavior. The children must be guided into make good choices. This allows them to think about the consequences. Teaching this concept early in life will have a lasting effect on the child.

    Learning & Discovery

    Children learn through discovery. When children have the opportunity to play with manipulatives, they discover, through trial and error, how the manipulatives work together, spatial relationships and characteristics about the manipulatives.

    Discovery can be guided by giving students a task to complete and letting them "play" to get the answer. For example, given a set of plastic shape manipulatives and a page of drawn shapes, can the students discover that two triangles can "fit" inside a square? Or, given wooden blocks (3-Dimensional shapes) and a page of drawn shapes, can the students learn the "face" of the wooden blocks by matching them to the shapes on the page? For example, a cube has a square "face."

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    Setting Up Play Centers

    The teacher should plan ahead and focus on how each opportunity for learning may be used. Set the play area according to a theme and what is being currently taught. For example, when introducing a certain letter, number or color, incorporate this into the centers. Lesson plans throughout the day may include "play" or "pretend" to add variety.

    Remember, always be opened for spontaneous opportunities for children to learn through play.

    Outdoor Centers

    The outdoor playground may have the usual swings, slides and monkey bars, but also should include simple equipment such as jump ropes, hula hoops and balls. Watering cans, dirt or seeds and plastic toy hoes are great for pretend gardening. Perhaps old flashlights and canteens could be props for pretend camping. A couple of old steering wheels attached to a some wooden boxes could be cars. Always have two or more ideas to promote sharing and socializing. Providing simple ways for children to express themselves and make believe together, easily focuses on the importance of play in early childhood.

    Indoor Centers

    An indoor play area could be incorporated into centers. Most Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten classrooms use center time as a learning period. The block area allows a time for social and problem solving skills, such as building towers or bridges. Manipulates, such as a container of buttons, promotes math, sorting and classifying skills. Art and writing centers provide an opportunity for the children to use their imagination and be creative, whether painting with a brush or a feather, drawing with crayons or sculpting with clay or play dough.

    The favorite of most children is the dramatic play area. Supply this area with dolls of different cultures, action figures, dress up clothes or musical instruments. Provide props for home living, a hospital, veterinary hospital or grocery store. It is interesting to create a theme every few weeks to allow further learning. Read a selected story about a farmer's market or a visit to the zoo and expand upon the theme in different centers.

    Adding variety, sparks interests and also motivates good behavior, both in outdoor and indoor play areas. This not only promotes growth and learning for the children, but allows tremendous satisfaction for the teacher. The results of learning through play truly has a positive effect on the growth and development of young children.

    I get most of my ideas and inspiration from invaluable books such as Creative Expression and Play in Early Childhood by Joan Packer Isenberg and Mary Renck Jalongo. What ideas have you come up with in your classroom?