Do What’s Best for Children—let them play!

This article is part of our Member Blog Series, which showcases Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative Members' efforts and commitment to ensure that play is a critical element in the lives of people of all ages. Each month, a different member organization will share their take on how play is a part of the work they do. The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative hopes that these stories of play from our diverse set of member organizations will encourage and inspire leaders in communities, businesses, schools, and families to prioritize play every day.

The Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC) just released our first public policy agenda. The agenda will guide our advocacy efforts and initiatives which focus on doing what’s best for children, investing adequately, and enhancing quality in early childhood education. PAEYC’s agenda advocates for the use of developmentally appropriate practices (DAP) and supports a paradigm shift that acknowledges the role of play in children’s learning and development.

The problem with the play vs. learning dichotomy

The debate continues over the question-- do children need more time to learn, or do children need more time to play? This has created a distorted dichotomy of play versus learning. In the early childhood years, playing and learning should not be in opposition. Play is a key component in a child’s development and it is how children authentically learn. DAP and play are foundational to high quality early education.The following examples demonstrate how child-directed play informs early learning:

  • Creating an environment in a classroom for children to act on their curiosity such as ‘how high can the blocks be stacked until they topple over’ allows children to experiment, make mistakes, discover, and problem solve.

  • Utilizing the arts encourages children to draw, model, create, and perform as a way to learn how to express feelings and ideas.

  • Free play enables children to make up their own rules and negotiate with their peers.

  • Imaginative play provides the experience for children to explore different roles and scenarios as well as discover possibilities for understanding the world around them..

In addition to exploration and creation, play is the primary way children use language. Also, play scenarios often involve mathematical activity such as shapes, patterns, and counting.

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Superpowers of Play

Freedom to play is freedom to think. Children learn to pursue their own ideas and develop foundational cognitive, social, and emotional skills. Children are hard at work when they play, developing “superpowers” such as leadership, conflict resolution, problem-solving, creativity, agency, and voice.

Make-believe play helps children to develop executive functioning which has many functions, including the ability to self-regulate. Children with good self-regulation develop the ability to control emotions, behaviors, and impulses. During make-believe play children talk to themselves about what they are going to be doing and how they are going to do it. This type of “private speech” is a skill used by adults as a way to overcome obstacles, master cognitive and social skills, and manage emotions.

Don’t let play disappear from schools

Children have a right to learn, and thereby a right to play. Despite what we know about how children best learn, play is disappearing from early childhood classrooms. As direct instruction, standards, and testing continue to seep into our preschool and early elementary classrooms, it is imperative that we advocate for developmentally appropriate practices and play.

Play is the work of childhood. In addition to play being a healthy part of development, play equips children with the skills to be creative members of our innovative workforce and participating, thoughtful citizens in our democratic society.

Take Action

Parents, caregivers, and educators have a responsibility to advocate on behalf of what’s best for our children. Share this blog post with your legislator and tell them why opportunities for play are important to you and your children. Find your legislator here.

Follow PAEYC as we continue to advocate for developmentally appropriate practices that support play in early childhood settings. Sign up here for updates on our policy agenda and how to become involved in our advocacy work.