May 02, 2011 Kerala Taylor

Teacher talk: How children learn through play

Play is under attack in our nation’s schools. Not only are more and more school districts reducing or eliminating recess to make more time for classroom instruction, but increased testing pressures are forcing teachers to forego the rich learning opportunities that play presents, both inside and outside the classroom.  The notion that “play” and “academics” aren’t compatible is becoming increasingly common. Parents deem play “frivolous,” believing that academics set the stage for their children's future success.

However, most teachers intuitively understand the value of play and aren’t at all happy about the sterile, uninspired learning environments that emerge when kids don’t get enough of it. In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, we surveyed hundreds of educators across the country to get their thoughts on how children learn through play. Here’s what they had to say:

“While at recess, the students learn to cooperate with each other. They learn about personal space and work on coordination (running, hopping, swinging). In the classroom, during free choice time they learn about decision making and work on many different skills, such as counting coins at the store center, measuring at the kitchen center, or building interest in science at the discovery center. Formal learning is important, but getting to practice those skills in a non-academic way gets students to love the journey of learning.”
- Linda Stoffan, New Mexico

“This is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to parents when asked repeatedly, ‘Why do the children play so much?’: ‘ Play helps children master all developmental needs. Add that to the guidance of a supportive and responsive teacher, and play in the classroom isn’t merely play, but rather a rich learning experience where children are able to put their thoughts, ideas and feelings into action. Our class does spend valuable time engaged in play. That time is rich in language, ideas, concepts and social and emotional development.’ ”
- Amber King, Virginia

“Play is an integral part of learning. It is so sad to walk into a room of preschoolers or toddlers and see them sitting with flash cards, being shown and forced to sit. Children learn through hands-on, developmentally appropriate activities, and through their free play that allows them to expand their imagination and creative abilities.”
- John Skelly, Florida

“According to Maria Montessori, children's work is play. Through play, children learn who they are and who they want to be. Play provides children with opportunities to develop important skills such as how to make and be friends and how to solve problems. Through play, children construct knowledge about the world and their unique place in it. Without play, there would be no joy, and no reason to explore and learn.”
- Marjorie Jennings, California

“High expectations and state standards put a lot of pressure on the students of today. I try to remember that they are kids! Kids need movement and time to socialize with their peers ... the lessons learned during play are essential for their development as well-rounded, well-adjusted adults and lifelong learners.”
- Dana Verhoff, Washington

“Children experience the world through play. Play is the wellspring of life! Asking a young child to sit down and learn goes against everything their brain and body are designed to do to learn about the world. All the testing in the world will not change anything unless the doors open and children go out and play for the movement provides the basis for speech, writing and reading. Without it, we will continue to have all sorts of ‘learning disabilities,’ which boil down to play deficit.”
- Lisa Boisvert Mackenzie, Vermont

“Children come alive and learn when given the opportunity to play! All the learning activities I plan are play-based. I've found I can teach any concept when introduced through play. It saddens my heart that opportunities to play are being removed and restricted by those who think academic standards are best served by pushing down curriculum for our youngest citizens. Increased expectations for standardized tests and assessments only serve to place more stress on already stressed children who need and deserve a childhood in which to play.”
- Deborah Grace, Indiana

“Play is the purest expression of joy. What better way to learn is there?”
- Elizabeth Slagg, Florida

Tomorrow: Teachers talk about how play facilitates discovery and exploration!

early childhood education, teacher appreciation week, education, teacher, elementary school, preschool