The Value of Play is Highly Underrated
"Ask any children what they do for fun. You will be amazed at what they consider play. One little girl stated she liked to play dress-up. When asked how she played, she responded, "I have this program, and I get to click on the dress I want the doll to wear." Author Unknown
This child is missing the experiences and the fine motor development children of the past benefitted from. She is missing the cutting out of dresses, folding the tabs, and then carefully placing the dress on the doll so that it wouldn't fall off. She is missing the experiences that paper dolls offers. She is using one finger.
If she really played dress-up, she would gain strength in her abs as she dressed in over-sized pants. Putting one leg in a pant leg forces the other leg to engage muscles and strengthen the core. Weak cores translates into difficulty completing tasks and sustaining attention in class.
Unstructured play that engages the entire body and all of the senses can help children grow cognitively in ways that no amounts of tutoring or computer programs can replace. In the following excerpt from my new book, I tell a story of one of our field trips and offer some suggestions to help children improve their writing ability.
We had a wonderful trip to Shipley Nature Center. When we arrived, a student was heard saying, “What are we going to do for thirty minutes? Is there playground equipment? Did we bring balls?” We replied by saying, “You have nature to play with. See what games you can come up with.” They quickly found trees to climb, sticks to use as building materials, as well ducks to follow and watch. Games of tag and running around the park also followed lunch. As we explored the habitat of the Tongva during our time at Shipley, we were doing more than sharing the history of a people who lived in this region; we were teaching the children how to observe their surroundings. With their enthusiasm for the rabbits, spider webs, lizards, and butterflies, we knew they would have plenty to write about when they returned.
We know parents want to help their children maximize their performance in class. If you’d like to help you child become a better writer, forego extracurricular writing classes and try some of the following free programs:
- Ask your children to turn off their devices and look out the window.
- Play “I Spy” car games. This is a game that has children describe what they see outside and the other passengers guess what it is that was spied.
- Take your children to the park with nothing other than a lunch and a blanket. Engage all senses by sharing what you hear, see, smell, and feel. Touching leaves, the grass, and tree bark and then describing it is offering sensory experiences that will give children something to write about. Lie on the blanket and look up at the sky and share what you see. This is great on cloudy days, but also good when there isn’t a cloud in the sky. Ask your children to “wonder” about what they see. i.e., “I wonder why the bark on that tree looks like it is peeling?” or “I wonder what is living high in those branches?” Go for a walk and talk about what you see and ask them to share. Encourage them to look at the colors in leaves and grass. Sharing these experiences is front-loading children’s writing with beautiful images. Verbalizing observations later translates into excellent writing.
- Go to the beach and build a sand castle together. Discuss how the sand feels. Observe what happens when the water is poured onto dry sand over and over again. Take time to let your senses experience the trip. Have them stop and take a few minutes to observe what they smell, see, hear, and feel. The texture of dry and wet sand offers great opportunities to share how each feels and why there is a difference.
If we were to translate the dollar value of these experiences, it would be far more than what the extracurricular programs cost, and have a further reaching benefit for the children. When they learn how to observe their environment, they will begin to do it automatically.
Anecdote: Mr. Helliwell and Ms O went on a several trips together.. Mrs. H noticed that Ms. O was moving so fast, she was missing a lot. So, she suggested Ms. O sit in one place, carve out a one square foot section in the sand and just observe it for ten minutes. What could one see in a 1 square foot of sand is amazing, but how many of us take the time to do that. Try it, you will be surprised.
The value of unstructured play and free exploration is highly underrated."