The Importance of Purposeful Play

Robin Page

Getting the classrooms ready, working on lesson plans, getting to know the names of children in our classes, setting an alarm clock in the morning again – these are all preparations that come with beginning a new school year. An integral part of preparation that I want to ensure in each classroom is the planning of innovative teaching and learning opportunities. As early childhood educators, we strive to cultivate our students to be critical thinkers and to ensure that their learning experiences support inquiry and creativity.

There are a variety of ways to implement innovative approaches that will foster problem-solving, communication, and collaboration amongst our students. Our early childhood students need a rich learning environment that is filled with purposeful play. When children are at play, they are actively involved in learning, they experience a variety of learning techniques, they are working independently and in groups, and are developing skills and knowledge in many content areas. When you enter a classroom in our early childhood building, you will observe play -  play that is engaging and child-centered, as well as a means of effective learning that meets objectives beyond the traditional focus of academics. Children are exploring and discovering information in a meaningful way.

There has been a lot of research and debate about the importance of play in the preschool classroom. My stance on to play or not to play? Play! Theorists, Piaget and Vygotsky, who have made a significant impact in early childhood education, state that when children are at play they are in their optimal time of learning.  The importance of play during critical periods of growth in the preschool years is also supported by brain research. The development of self-regulation, cognition, and social skills are supported through language and thought during play. Play can be incorporated with instructional activities that teach students math, language and literacy, science, social studies, art skills, imagination, social skills, cooperation, and so much more. My teachers play an important role in promoting play in their classrooms. Through an understanding of child development, observation skills, and practical knowledge of play and playful learning techniques, teachers can create and manage play-rich classrooms.

As early childhood educators, we play an important role in exposing and teaching our students skills that are needed for success beyond their experience in our program. In today’s changing society, our children must be equipped to be flexible, know how to problem solve, be socially responsible, be critical thinkers, and self-reflect. As educators we are charged with equipping our students with these skills, as well as being innovative in modifying practices, approaches, and tools that are developmentally appropriate and successful. We want our children wondering, exploring, playing, and imagining through authentic learning experiences and providing that each day is a privilege for us with our three-, four-, and five-year-olds. This can be achieved through play-based instruction, resulting in a healthy, successful, and fun learning environment.
All Saints’ Episcopal School is a leading college preparatory day school in Fort Worth, Texas. Grounded in the Episcopal school tradition, All Saints’ offers programming of national distinction in the academic, fine art, athletic and spiritual disciplines, which brings to life our philosophy of promoting each student’s individual genius within.
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