The Importance of Play
By Tracy Riekenberg
Whenever I meet new people, I tell them about this job that I love so dearly. I say I’m an early childhood educator and I work at a play-based preschool. More often than not, the person I am talking to will say something like, “So the kids JUST play all day??”
Yes, our students at All Seasons play. But there is no JUST about it.
The key to understanding a play-based preschool is to first understand that play is the way young children learn. When children are playing, they are working out their place in the world. They are practicing skills that they will need as they grow. Language and communication, motor skills, self-help skills, problem solving, taking turns, as well as “academic” skills like patterning, counting, reading, and more are all practiced when children are playing. When the children are playing, they are engaging in these lessons at their level, at their pace, and with their own motivation.
Recently in the Spring Room, we saw how children were learning through play in our dramatic play area. We set up the space as a pizza parlour, where children could take orders for pizzas, make the pizzas, deliver the pizzas, and then at the end of playtime put everything away so it is ready for the next children. During the order taking, we saw children practicing communication skills. “What kind of pizza would you like?” they would ask, and then respond with, “Coming right up!” When they made the pizza, they had to think about and remember what the customer ordered and find the correct toppings. At clean up time, children practiced sorting skills to put all the toppings of the pizza back in the correct spots in the container. All this happened amidst giggles, fun, and play. The children who engaged in the pizza parlour dramatic play learned skills in a meaningful way and children and teachers delighted in watching it happen.
So, yes, children at All Seasons play. But they are doing much more than JUST playing. We teachers are intentionally planning activities that engage children in learning through play. It’s not a free-for-all, nor is it lackadaisical in intention. We at All Season highly revere Mister Rogers, and we try to emulate his advice:
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.”