Play is something we talk about all the time at Cherry Grove! Those that know me well, know that I am a devoted follower of Albert Einstein and his biggest mantra with regards to the importance of play. I have often talked to parents about how we define play as something that is purely for amusement and that we struggle to see the importance of it as grown ups. Nathan Wallis writes on Family Times (familytimes.co.nz),
"we understand the word play to mean the opposite of serious work ... that is easy and trivial. Often grown-ups use the 'P word' to dismiss what children are doing as unimportant - when it's time to tidy up or do some 'real' learning. Yet, for kids, play is challenging and important: its how they learn".
Let's think about it contextually as an adult who play's a sport, then we can begin to see the worth in 'playing' for children learning and developing - without the experience WE have enjoyed over the years! We know that being actively engaged in a sport as an adult requires focus, commitment, and practice if we want to continue getting better at it. Repetitious play allows us to improve, to try new things, to use the knowledge and adapt if we play at different venues or on different surfaces - it gives us a better understanding of how we can do better. Children have this same model during their play, especially if it is 'free' or 'open ended' play where they get to determine their own purpose and not someone else's desired outcome. Children are amazing at adapting their limited experience into meaningful play in differing environments to help them better understanding and learn all the nuances that come with life and the would around them.
Children learn through adapting their play as their experiences grow and fine tune their learning through trial and error. The cause and effect that comes from trialing different ideas is a natural part of a child's play that we take for granted. Not only does experience through trial and error encourage children to keep investigating, it also builds resilience. Children unable to understand the disappointment of failure leave themselves vulnerable to anxiety and a lack of understanding when outcomes don't go their way. Children also appreciate success a lot more when it's earned and when they have had an appreciation of what a 'misfire' looks and feels like. Don't get me wrong, it's hard watching your child fail - incredibly hard and you just want to save them - but the reality is that we all need to understand the ebbs and flows of daily life and be able to bounce back with an understanding that the glitches which take place are all opportunities to extend learning.
And if you take all the above and apply it to a social setting, the amount of learning that happens with regards to a child's social competence is amazing. Interpersonal relationships all require problem solving - something as adults we are constantly aware of thanks to our amazing verbal and written communication skills! Children achieve so much understanding through watching and learning along side others - social transactions are learnt through role modeling most effectively. We use social coaching constantly at Cherry Grove to provide a solid exemplars. Using clear, step-by-step instructions through play we are demonstrating what acceptable social transactions look like in a positive environment that has meaning and context to a child.
Play is a universal language for children and we need to ensure we are maximising the opportunities associated with it to give children every chance to grow their understanding of the world around them, while also developing emotionally and socially. The 'P' word is a currency that works so embrace it and have fun doing it, because the outcomes for our children are so dependent on it!