So I’m attending my annual conference and I finally have time to write. Sorry it’s been so long, though thankfully I have lots of renewed energy tonight so let’s talk about play. It’s such a popular word in early education these days, but what are they all talking about? Isn’t just about kids using toys?
No it’s not, it’s much much more. It’s the sun, the moon, and the stars in the sky. It’s the method by which children are living their lives, their anchor, their work. The definition of play in our field is usually described in a paragraph with so many terms and variations. The common threads are enjoyment, participation and engagement.
Different types of play occur throughout a child’s development. There’s no schedule or order, no wrong or right, though some patterns exist. There are natural shifts in the kind of play as children’s environment, community, and minds take shape.
- Solitary: a child plays alone
- Parallel: a child plays alongside another child without interaction
- Cooperative: children interact as they work toward a goal
- Symbolic: a child uses one object to represent another
- Sociodramatic: pretend play in which a child takes on a role
- Games with rules: children follow guidelines dictated by an established game
- Mature: a child will dive deeply into their play, staying with it for an extended period of time
Please keep in mind that each type of play serves a purpose, and has its own value. For example, a child who pretends a ball is an apple will later be better equipped to visually represent quantity. A child taking on a role is learning to self-regulate, practicing self-control.
I’m interested in hearing what children say when asked, “what is play?” You probably wouldn’t hear words like problem-solving, achievement, creativity, imagination, identity, or persistence. But if you observe carefully, you’ll see these qualities and more. And they make for amazing adults; adults which will one day take care of us, our planet, and the children to come. So next time you think play might just be a simple word with little meaning, think of all that is gained from it.