Expert Opinion: Play is Important in More Ways than One

January 10, 2017

For children to enjoy an enriching childhood, it is essential for them to be given sufficient time to discover both the world and themselves in a fun and age-appropriate way. If we deny children the time to play, we stifle their ability to learn later in life by inhibiting the development of essential neural networks related to association, problem-solving and even the recognition of ’cause and effect’.

The ‘play gap’ is a result of our society becoming preoccupied with merely measuring instead of truly educating young people – but it is important to realise, as Einstein once wrote,

“Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that be counted counts.”

Young children learn by experiencing the world ‘hands-on’. They are sensory/emotional learners, whose stage of cognitive development is unsuited for the misguided ‘tutoring’, drilling and cramming to which too many children are subjected. It’s unfortunate that in our society today, children are deprived of the important pleasure of play because adults, with the best of intentions, seek to provide them with a ‘head start’ to education by sending them for various ‘enrichment’ classes. Sadly, many of these programmes attempt to treat children as ‘little adults’, with methods that leave the child bored, frustrated and stressed – and these emotions can colour all later learning experiences and affect the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being and personal growth of children unfavourably.

It is important for kids to have enough time to play

Some say, ‘Play is the real work of childhood.’ If we grasp this simple concept – if we understand that what many adults see as a ‘waste of time’ is actually Nature’s way of building the cognitive capacity and intellectual frameworks upon which all later learning is built – then we would not even ask the questions above. Rather, we would make as much time as possible available for play – both ‘free’, unsupervised play and what we at MindChamps call ‘crafted play’ (play activities into which certain essential learning concepts have been subtly included).

As long as the child has sufficient time for other necessary activities, such as sleep, having meals, etc., parents should not introduce a cap on playtime.

Is there an age where kids should switch their focus from play to study?

Perhaps it is good to ponder the question, ‘What is the purpose of study?’ Is it to pass exams, or is there a more fundamental need to learn to control the mass of information and the demands of a competitive, globalised society? If we think it is the former, then we are living in the past, and our children will struggle to cope with the ever-more-complex world which confronts them. If we see education as preparing children for whatever world they will face in 15 or 20 years’ time, then we will be more interested in making sure that foundation skills and learning strategies are in place, and the foundations for all these skills and strategies lie in play – not in rote learning and drill.

It is essential for parents to first ensure that their children develop an internal framework that makes them ready to learn, want to learn and love to learn before they are compelled into a regime of study. And the ideal age for children to develop this internal framework is during their time in pre-school and before they start primary school. This is the reason why MindChamps developed a unique preschool curriculum which nurtures all the key foundations of learning and out-of-school programmes for young children, focusing on creating the fun, experiential, active and ‘hands-on’ foundation activities that children enjoy. Thus, children will be able to develop the love for lifelong learning, possessing techniques to cope with their studies when they enter primary school.

What are some appropriate play activities for pre-schoolers?

Young children are ‘sensory-emotional’ learners. Their brains have not yet developed the complex neural networks required to process abstract concepts. They make connections (literally) through what they can touch, hear and see – and through how they feel, emotionally.

This is what we, at MindChamps PreSchool, call ‘Crafted Play’. Essentially, there are two types of play:

1. Free Play – Where children, while supervised, are left basically to their own devices in a space which ideally has many sources of stimulation (toys, balls, blocks, drawing equipment etc.) and physical activities (climbing frames, mats, slides etc.), and learning is random and wide-ranging.

2. Crafted Play – Where the activities, while allowing the child the latitude to Explore, Experience, Experiment and Enjoy, are given just enough structure to lead towards a particular learning outcome (numeracy skills, language/literacy skills, social skills, or perhaps a new ‘understanding’), without removing the all-important ‘play’ elements. In numeracy skills, kids take part in ‘real life’ money exchanges where they buy bananas as a snack, for instance.

Both forms of play are equally important, and both should be encouraged.

At MindChamps PreSchool, we employ Crafted Play in every key learning area, from literacy and numeracy to age-appropriate scientific concepts and even social/communication skills. Using our unique ‘Play-Stations’ (not the electronic kind), we can introduce children to a range of experiences and lifelong learning behaviours that the ‘drill and kill’ approach to teaching can never match.

Book a visit @ MindChamps PreSchool today!

Article contributed by Brian Caswell, Dean of Research & Programme Development at MindChamps.