“Children learn through play!” This is an idea preached by schools and educational books and bloggers and toy companies. This is a widely accepted concept different factions of society have contorted to fit their own specific needs. In fact, I don’t think I’m overstepping my bounds when I say that collectively, as a society, we’re messing up learning through play for our children.
To the toy manufacturers, learning through play means creating “educational” toys that light up and spew facts. Educational companies make “games” that drill and kill, all in the name of play. There are very structured children’s classes that tell children exactly how they should play. Sports teams offer practices and competitive games for children to “play.”
Friends, in gentleness I want to tell you that these experiences are not learning through play.
Sure, they include the word play, and they might be fun for children. But if we think of what is the best for children, they are not getting the full benefits of learning through play in these ultra-structured scenarios.
One of the things that drew me to homeschooling preschool was the time that it would gift our family. Instead of drop-offs and pick-ups, we could stay at home and just be. Instead of trying to fill three hours without Big Sister, we would spend that beautiful time learning and connecting together. But honestly, it is hard to fight these messages that our kids need to constantly be doing something productive. We schedule play dates and swimming lessons (I’m not exempt from these, believe me!) and sports practices and
In this post, the first of my Everything You Need to Know About Play series, we’ll talk about how to encourage your little ones to learn through play.
The Benefits of Learning Through Play
Play is so necessary for children that it has been listed as a basic human right for children (according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.) Play teaches young children how to interact with the world around them, allows them to use their creativity, and promotes healthy relationships. But there are many more benefits than that:
- Reduces childhood stress and anxiety
- Develops social-emotional skills
- Allows children to explore a wide range of interests
- Encourages cooperation with peers
- Develops confidence
- Increases a child’s resiliency
- Improves fine and gross motor skills
- Allows the child to actively experience new concepts, rather than having to be told
But what kind of play do they learn from? We use the word play in so many different ways.
- Play a video game
- Play a sport
- Play a game
- Imaginative play
- “Just playing” as in joking
Charlotte Mason describes beneficial play in this way:
But organised games are not play in the sense we have in view. Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make.” School Education, pg 37
Real play, the play where children are learning and practicing life-long skills, is not organized by parents.
It isn’t sitting down to do an app, or following the rules of a game that someone else established. Yes, these things are beneficial in different ways, and have their time and place. Charlotte Mason mentioned games as a way for a child to rest from their hard work of play and observation. Because, as Albert Einstein said, “Play is the highest form of research.”
Child-driven play allows children to create their own scenarios, games, and even worlds. This can be with toys, or real items, or just in their imaginations. In this article from the AAP (also mentioned above), it is explained that parents often keep their children busy with activities because they feel like this will be beneficial to their education and enrichment. But, this actually can be damaging to a child’s development because it limits their time to explore and learn through play.
When parents engage in child-driven play with their children, they are developing a strong relationship with each other. This builds and emotional connection. However, part of Charlotte Mason’s masterly inactivity is that we allow children time to explore, play, and learn on their own. Finding a balance between bonding with your child through play, and allowing them to play independently is important.
How You Can Encourage Learning Through Play
- Don’t overschedule your days so that you can have plenty of unstructured play time
- Provide your children with toys and materials to play with, but don’t tell them how to play
- Be selective about the toys you allow your children to have (Read my post about passive and active toys here)
- Start a play group to allow your child to have play time with peers
- Limit screen time- this is technology-led play, not child-led play!
- Give your child lots of time to exercise through play outside (Here is my post about Charlotte Mason’s views of outdoor play in the early years)
For part two of this series (coming tomorrow) I’ll describe why I think sensory bins can have a place in a Charlotte Mason home.