“Play is the beginning of knowledge.” -George Dorsey
“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” -Mr. Rogers
During my childhood, I was blessed with a mom who was able to quit her job to stay home with my sister and me. Both my parents valued this crucial stage of our development and fostered growth through numerous forms of play. Play was nurtured through time, “play dates,” numerous opportunities, play items, and often the sacrifice of a perfectly clean, neat house. Play was sitting on the kitchen floor with my mom and sister with Play Dough, cookie cutters, and rolling pins strewn everywhere. Play was having friends over to groom my collection of toy horses or gallop around the backyard—pardon me, pasture—pretending we were horses training for the Kentucky Derby. Play was loading two mini yellow and orange shopping carts into the backseat of our little car and grocery shopping with mom; I’m pretty sure we cut her productivity in half, but we sure thought we were essential to the task at hand. Play was full of pretend, dress-up (my sister somehow was always coerced into being the groom of every pretend toilet paper wedding), creation, imagination, and exploration. Play was simple, but it was alive and engaging.
My frame of reference in terms of play today comes from what I have observed in the underprivileged schools I’ve taught in during these initial six years of my teaching career. Therefore, play looks very different to me now in these homes than it did in my own home growing up. Play in many of my students’ homes involves some type of screen, whether it be a television screen, tablet, smart phone, etc. These electronic versions of play, especially in isolation, often debilitate a child’s sense of creative and imaginative play. Something else I have noticed and that’s truly heartbreaking is the absence of outdoor play in these children’s lives. Due to the lack of safety of many neighborhoods, children are stripped of the ability to run around, explore, and play outside.
My hope for children is that they would be allowed sufficient time and opportunities to engage in creative, stimulating play and that families would become more aware of this crucial need. My hope is that school districts would begin to recognize the importance of play in a child’s life and its crucial role to a child’s development and invest in curriculum, programs, and materials that would help foster this in their early childhood programs.
The role of play through my childhood years allowed me to learn, question, explore, and create. I hope that if my husband and I are so blessed as to have kids of our own in the future, we give them a similar childhood to the one I had by way of the opportunities and experiences they are given to play. Through adulthood, play has taken on a different form and for me, involves playing sports (my husband and I play volleyball and tennis when we get the chance), staying active through exercise, playing card games and board games (especially Scrabble), and experimenting in the kitchen with various new recipes. Play is important through childhood and as well as adulthood and needs to be prioritized and given ample time for.