The Importance of Play | Professional Shelf

When block and housekeeping corners give way to flash cards and workbooks, children don’t necessarily benefit academically.
  In our sometimes frantic race to the top and well-intentioned bid to leave no child behind, many early childhood settings have curtailed children’s play. When block and housekeeping corners give way to flash cards and workbooks, children don’t always benefit. The Position Statement on Developmentally Appropriate Practice of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) maintains, “Rather than diminishing children’s learning by reducing the time devoted to academic activities, play promotes key abilities that enable children to learn successfully.” These abilities include “self-regulation, symbolic thinking, memory, and language.” Whether your early childhood program is rethinking its reliance on paper and pencil tasks or has steadfastly embraced play as an essential component of the curriculum, these titles offer guiding principles for educators who strive to ensure that every child succeeds. creative block playAn essential resource, Creative Block Play: A Comprehensive Guide to Learning through Building (Redleaf Press, 2017), by educator Rosanne Regan Hansel, provides everything teachers and caregivers need to know about the benefits of block play along with pointers for scaffolding children’s exploration. Hansel outlines the ways in which block play supports social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development as children learn to solve multifaceted problems on their own; use language, writing, and drawing to share their work; and physically interact with their environment. Practical suggestions for getting started include guidelines for choosing blocks, descriptions of various types of blocks, thoughts on storage and organization, and ideas for introducing extension activities, such as writing journals and art materials. Outdoor block play and woodworking are also considered. Finally, Hansel demonstrates the use of block play in long-term learning projects on a variety of topics with detailed examples from actual classrooms. Throughout, crisp color photos highlight the expansive creativity, deep concentration, and obvious joy of young children at work and play. embracing roughIn Embracing Rough-and-Tumble Play: Teaching with the Body in Mind (Redleaf Press, 2017) Mike Huber shares his commitment to allowing space for physical movement in early childhood classrooms. With the insight that comes from years of teaching, Huber argues convincingly that children need to move more often than is generally allowed, and when teachers and caregivers respect that need, children benefit socially and cognitively. He explains that “much of play labeled rough-and-tumble is neither rough nor does it involve tumbling.” Instead, it includes full-body activities such as climbing, stomping, and roughhousing, play that is often discouraged, usually through concern about safety or behavior management. Huber tackles thorny issues, such as gender and cultural expectations, the difference between play and aggression, the role of physical contact, and the benefits of warplay while offering straightforward, useful advice. Chock-full of specific recommendations, real classroom examples, and enticing color photos, this guide makes active classroom play hard to resist. The cooperative gamesCreative and active play often calls for teamwork. In The Cooperative Games Bullying Prevention Program: Cooperative Games for a Warm School Climate Pre-K to Grade 2 (Better World Education, 2017), Suzanne Lyons, owner of, discusses the history and positive role of cooperative games. Citing a 1994 University of Nevada, Reno study, Lyons proposes using cooperative games to build relationships and reduce bullying. Her program utilizes four board games for children ages four–seven (published by Family Pastimes) and a set of seven active games developed by Terry Orlick, Ph.D, a professor of kinesiology. Several of the active games put a non-competitive spin on a familiar activity. For example, in Cooperative Musical Chairs, as chairs are removed, children work together to share chairs rather than compete for their own. Directions for 50 additional active games are included. Most require few or no materials, take 10-15 minutes to play, and are welcome additions to any teacher or caregiver’s repertoire, perhaps especially in settings where play has been relegated to the sidelines.

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