“You’re a preschool teacher? That must be so fun! All you do is play all day long!”
How many times have I heard some version of that? You don’t even want to know!!
A lot of people say this without realizing how it sounds. I can understand that. There are a lot of misconceptions about early childhood education, which is really unfortunate. People see some macaroni art and hand puppets, a huge playground, and a shelf full of toys, and are under the impression that all day long we roll around in the floor with our kids singing “Old McDonald” and playing dolls.
The simple response to “All you do is play!” is yes, we do. The complex answer is the one I’m going to explore in this post. That is, yes, we do. But do you realize how important play is in early childhood?
I went to a workshop with my coworkers today as part of our requirement to gain so many hours per year in childcare workshops. A lot of workshops are things we really already knew, but I enjoy going to them. It’s nice to be brought up to date on the newest research, and it’s like going back to college for a few hours. One of our topics this morning was the importance of play in the classroom.
There are many different benefits to play in the early childhood classroom. The first thing you should consider is that “playing” does not necessarily apply strictly to playing with toys.
Many of the games my students and I play are educational. Example: Instead of coloring pictures of shapes on a worksheet, we race around the room finding objects that are in different shapes. This pushes my kids to think critically about what they are looking at around them. One of my kids found a button on his jacket when we were looking for circles. Another found the clock, and another found that the eye on one of the owls in our welcome sign was a circle. They are learning to recognize shapes all around them, and that is more important to me than being able to color in a circle on a worksheet.
**Don’t get me wrong, worksheets are fine, and I do fully recognize the importance of learning to color for fine motor skills.**
Another important point is that even if the games we play are not educational, they still provide many benefits for the child. Playing instills a sense of self confidence in a child (“Look how high I built this tower of blocks! I didn’t know I could do that!”), teaches children to work in teams (“Let’s build a tower of blocks together!”), and allows children to develop problem solving skills (“The tower falls down when we stack them this way. Let’s find another way to stack them!”).
In addition to these benefits, playing in preschool develops a child’s imagination and creativity. A dramatic play center, in particular, allows a child to stretch and grow their imagination. This is incredibly important because a child with an active, creative imagination will never be bored.
I could go on and on about this topic, because I feel so strongly about it. I’ll close here with a few quotes that I feel enforce my opinion on the importance of play in the classroom. Feel free to comment with your feelings on the topic!
“Play is the way in which children rehearse for the challenges of life.” -Pam Brighton
“The ability to play is one of the principle criteria of mental health.” -Ashley Montague
“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson