Play helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of the creative process. Most important, true play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play. Dr. Stuart Brown (from Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul)
We know that play is an important part of a child’s life. But rarely do we make the connection between play and learning. Study after study shows that the most lasting, robust learning comes from intentional play.
In my framework, creating time for family play and a child’s individual need for play is a key component of raising a child who is resilient, engaged, and self-confident. When a child plays, (and for that matter, when an adult plays) they are using part of their brain that activates creativity, understanding, and allows the brain to bring together information from different parts in our lives in a more relaxed state.
As Dr. Stuart Brown says, “work does not work without play.” Without allowing our children to take time to play, it will be much harder for them to synthesize information and take space to truly understand. Every great teacher knows that all of us learn by doing- we can show or tell someone something a million times, but if we don’t get to actually feel it in our hands or experience it for ourselves, it’s going to be much harder to learn.
Children learning need “time off” from their learning to refocus on the important work of play. This will let them breathe, reduce anxiety, and in some far away part of their brain allow the work of schema building to take place. Schema building is the process in the brain that allows you to make connections between what you already know and new information. For example, a child may struggle to subtract 3-2, but if you are playing house and put 2 dolls to bed, they will know there is one doll remaining to put to bed. After this play time, this new ability will translate into addition and subtraction skills during math.
What defines play?
Play is defined when you are absorbed in a task, when the task doesn’t feel pressure-filled, and when you’re happy to be doing what you’re doing. Many kids can resist learning because they think they’re needing to work, and there is a right or wrong answer. When they get absorbed in play, they are focused on the task at hand and learning has the ability to happen without the pressure.
We all want our kids to do well in school, and learning happens in a more concrete way for children when it is allowed to marinate through their play.
All of this said, while this post is about the connection between learning and play, kids do just need play, regardless of learning outcomes, for their own development.