Children’s Play Time Is a Key to Early Learning

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Two little girls coming down a slide
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Children’s play should be seen as an essential vehicle for learning and early education, not a distraction from it, say early childhood experts.

That’s the message delivered at a webinar on the importance of play hosted by The Hunt Institute and Trust for Learning, writes Kara Arundel for K-12DIVE.  

 “Children have to learn to play and play to learn,” said Deborah Leong, professor emerita at Metropolitan State University of Denver and co-founder and president of Tools of the Mind, a company that provides research-based curriculum and resources for early education.

Pre-K play should have opportunities for student-led make-believe play and longer, uninterrupted time for peer interactions.

Teachers should be “guides on the sides” rather than dictating the type of play.

“What happens is that if we step back as adults, and we give the children the space and the time to figure it out, they actually engage in really deep engagement of learning and play,” said Denisha Jones, an early childhood professor at Sarah Lawrence College and executive director of the nonprofit Defending the Early Years.

Play should also be gender inclusive and anti-racist. 

“Learning has to be active, it has to be engaged, meaningful, socially interactive, iterative and, importantly, it has to be joyful. And what are those things? Well, it turns out that the very characteristics of how the brain learns coalesce around play,” said Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, professor of psychology at Temple University and a senior fellow at Brookings Institution.

Read more about the importance of unstructured play at k-12Dive.

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