“The presence or absence of play, particularly in child development, has a lot to do with competence, resilience and emotional health [and] Brain size,” Brown said. Playing is “not frivolous and not only for children, but something that belongs to human nature”.
In fact, numerous researchers have found that play is a natural and crucial part of child development. This year, The Hechinger Report launched a reporting project to examine the often overlooked but profoundly consequential role of play in child development – and the small but growing movement to bring play back into classrooms across the country. Our reporting team found that while play comes naturally to children, opportunities for play in and even outside of school can be minimal and uneven, and many obstacles stand in the way of extending and enhancing playtime.
Experts say adults, including parents and educators, need more support and encouragement to maximize the benefits of the game, but face many obstacles in doing so. At the school level, it can be difficult to get buy-in for more playtime from stressed administrators and educators struggling with government testing pressures. Adults working in classrooms with younger children find that it takes planning and careful thought to design play environments and experiences that allow children to reap the benefits of play. And parents need to be convinced that free time to play can be just as important as organized activities and classes.
As the country emerges from a pandemic that has seen children spend more time in front of screens, missed important game opportunities, it’s about a lot. Thoughtful efforts to reintegrate play into everyday life can be critical to children’s emotional, social, and academic health and progress.
Play shouldn’t be seen as a sideline to learning, say experts, but should instead be seen as the natural way young children learn. “The parts of the brain that are most developed in the early years are the ones that respond to active experiences,” said Dee Ray, professor of early childhood education and director of the Center for Play Therapy at the University of North Texas College of Education. In contrast, the parts of the brain that enable children to learn by listening to a lecture or watching a video are developed later, she added. “The brain is structured to first learn from experience and then learn through whatever other means we normally use [to teach],” she said. “Play is essential to education. Play is education for children.”
For example, when children are playing with dolls, they can try different scenarios for how they would react to a crying baby, including holding the doll or feeding the doll, Dee added. You create new neural networks and gain new understanding. This “pretend play” is a critical way children explore their surroundings and learn about the world, said Doris Bergen, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at Miami University of Ohio, whose research focuses on child development and the game focused.
Research shows that when mammals play, their Brains are activated in a way it can Change neuron connections in the prefrontal cortex that affect emotional regulation and problem solving. Play can also let go chemicals in the brain, including oxytocin (which helps regulate emotions and support social skills) and dopamine (a neurotransmitter that affects memory, motivation, attention and mood). Children are “often flooded with positive emotions during play,” Dee said. Play is so powerful that it is often used as a form of therapy for children struggling with anxiety or trauma.
Even as children progress through early grades, research shows that play can still have an impact. Elementary Principles have reported that e.g. B. a recess is present positive impact on school performance and that the students are more concentrated afterwards. Play is seen as an integral part of the academic environment for both socio-emotional and academic development American Academy of Pediatrics.
Researchers have largely relied on animal experiments to refine the game’s effects on the brain. A 2003 A study of rat brains found that rats raised in a playful, stimulating environment had higher levels of a protein that grows and maintains brain cells than rats raised in a solitary, boring environment. Other studies have shown that play affects associated parts of the brain in young rats social interactions and thinking. Studies involving children have also shown the benefits of play, including improved language skills, problem-solving skills and math skills. Certain types of imaginative game They have been found to improve endurance. Play can even be used Close performance gaps between young children, some experts argue.
To truly benefit from play, children need to be given plenty of unstructured playtime, Bergen said. That means they should be given at least an hour each day in a safe environment to “create their own enjoyment, their own rules, their own experiences,” she said. This kid-led free playtime can also help kids internalize what they’re being taught about the world, she added. “Play is one of the most important ways children really reinforce their learning. The way we make our skills really permanent and enriched and sophisticated is often through our gameplay experiences.”
Experts say such playtime shouldn’t just happen outside of school or during recess, but should be a necessary part of teaching and learning. However, supporting the most useful game activities can require training and planning. Gaming should be viewed as a way of learning in schools, said Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Hirsh-Pasek sees play as a spectrum of activities ranging from free play, where “adults should just stay out of the way,” to direct instruction, where adults set the agenda.
It’s in the middle of that spectrum where children experience “guided play” with a learning goal in mind that may have the greatest potential for young children, she added. For example, to teach technical concepts, adults might tell children to do it Build a sturdy skyscraper, and then ask the children open-ended questions about their efforts. To encourage the development of math concepts and skills, adults could draw a line of numbers on the floor, ask children to jump, and then compare their distances. Some research shows that children can learn just as much – if not more – from guided play experiences like this than from being taught in less active ways.
An added benefit of increasing play-based learning in classrooms is that active and engaging learning experiences can lead to deeper, more enduring learning, Hirsh-Pasek said. “Where do you find these features: something that is active, engaging, meaningful, iterative, and joyful? They merge under this behavior we call play.”