Why Children Should Play in Child Care

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Why Play?

Along with a need for safe and supervised care, many parents enroll their child in a child care or preschool program with the expectation that they will be learning academic skills that will prepare them for future school success. Because many of the parent's early school or care experiences were rigid school environments comprised of worksheets and teacher-directed activities, they are often dismayed to find their children playing for most of the day.

After all, isn't play just an idle waste of time? Surprisingly, child psychologists and educational specialists will answer this with a resounding "No". Many early childhood teachers and child care providers are now recognizing what they have found in numerous research studies: Play is the most effective and powerful way for young children to learn. Often it is said that play is the work of childhood, the primary method for them to learn about themselves, others and their world.

Some scientists have found evidence that play can sculpt the brain and build denser webs of neural connections. When we play we literally exercise our brain cells. The nerve cells in the brain actually thicken and grow as we learn.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." 
~ Albert Einstein

What is play?

We do not have to be taught to play. It is a universal activity, although it takes many forms. Indeed, children of every culture engage in play. It is true free play that is the most influential in learning and development. This form of play has specific characteristics.

Play is:

  • fun
  • child-directed and chosen
  • process-oriented
  • non-goal-oriented
"Knowledge arises neither from objects nor the child, but from interactions between the child and those objects." 
~ Jean Piaget

What does play teach?

Play is the best way for young children to learn the concepts, skills, and tasks needed to set a solid foundation for later school and life success. Most child care programs focus on developing the whole child: socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually. Many common play activities meet these goals.

Fingerplays language development, fine-motor skills, counting, coordination, and self-esteem
Circle games large motor skills, creativity, cooperation, and spatial concepts
Pretend play social skills (cooperation, turn-taking and sharing) language and vocabulary development imagination, emotional expression
Puzzles problem solving, abstract reasoning, shapes, and spatial concepts
Block building a foundation for more advanced science comprehension including gravity, stability, weight, and balance
Sand-box play measuring, problem solving, and fine motor skills
Cooking math skills(counting and measuring,) nutrition and science concepts(prediction, cause and effect)
Coloring/Painting creativity, emotional expression, symbolic representation, fine-motor skills