What If Play Doesn’t Help Kids In Adulthood?

As back to school season swirls around us, I have noticed a common topic of discussion among early childhood folks: PLAY.

That’s great news!

I am a huge supporter of play in early childhood settings, which will come as no surprise to long-time readers of my blog. Lately, however, something has really caught my attention in the ways we early childhood professionals talk about play. In effort to prove the importance of play, we dissect it down to its component parts and articulate it’s value for the children’s futures:

  • We identify the math and problem solving skills embedded in block towers.
  • We name the self regulation and physical coordination honed on the slide.
  • We articulate the early literacy skills refined through invented writing in dramatic play corners.

I think talking about play in this way has value because it makes play easier to defend. If we know that playing makes deposits towards a child’s future self, we are justified in including play as part of high-quality early childhood environments. In short, this kind of defense of play is the language that adults speak and understand. “Playing isn’t a waste of time, because look at how much the kids are learning!”

But, I think talking about play only in relationship to the child’s future self is a symptom of our cultural misunderstanding of the function of play along with our deep anxiety about whether or not children will be prepared to meet the future demands of school (and life!) if “all they do all day is play.”

As early childhood educators, what would we say if children’s play actually didn’t make a difference in their lives as future adults? If play was something that children did, not because it made them into better or more competent adults, but because it was a critical element of experiencing the world as a child. Would we still work so hard to defend it?

You see, I believe that the more we situate the value of play in the future returns of successful adulthood, the more we strip children of their value as human beings with agency and dignity in the present. Children’s play does not have to be measured by the yardstick of adulthood in order to have value. Children’s play does not have to prepare them for the classroom in order to be important.

Children’s play is important because it’s a tool they use to understand the world and their place in it. Play provides the rich context for children to engage with peers and create their own valuable peer culture, something that exists outside of and apart from adults. Play is important not because we adults decide it is important, but because children – through their insatiable drive to play – say it’s so.

I encourage you to keep looking to play as a source of insight about the kinds of skills children develop for their future role as adult citizens of this world. But set that agenda on the back burner, and start paying attention to play because it’s what children do, and therefore, it’s important.

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Emily Plank is a writer and consultant in the field of early childhood education. Her book, Discovering the Culture of Childhood, has won acclaim for its innovation and fresh perspective on children. She is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Child Studies at Linköping University in Sweden where her reading and schoolwork is a constant source of new ideas that she enjoys sharing with the world. She lives with her husband and three young children in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Resolving to Love our Children

I recently celebrated my fifteenth wedding anniversary. I’ve been thinking about love a lot lately. How do we know we are loved? What things do the people in our lives do for us that tell us most deeply that we are loved?

After I first got married, I encountered the idea that people have different languages for showing and receiving love, an idea made popular by the many books of Gary Chapman. Some people spend time together. Some need words of affirmation. Some give gifts. Some rely on physical closeness while others show love through acts of service.

As a newlywed, this idea helped me understand concrete ways to nurture my relationship with my spouse, and lately, I’ve been wondering about how these ideas impact my relationships with my children.

I tell my children everyday that I love them, but do they feel it? Do they feel loved when I tell them with words? When we wrestle? When we play games of Go, Fish? When I wash their laundry or take them to swimming practice? When I buy them something special?

If they feel loved in ways that I less naturally show, then they might feel less connected to me than I think, so I am making a commitment to learn the ways they show and receive love by asking these simple questions:

How do you know that I love you?

What things do I do that help you know I love you?

With older children, this can happen with conversations. For younger children, we can experiment to discover what kinds of interactions bring them the most joy.

For many of us with children, our days are filled to bursting with daily life: waking, meals, naptime, soccer practice, dance class, school drop off, laundry, grocery shopping, arranging childcare, doctor’s visits, class projects, birthday parties, and picture days.

We make choices about how to spend our free time. If I know how my children feel most loved, I can concentrate on engaging with them in their own language as much as I can. I want my children to experience life knowing that they have a place in their family and that they are loved. I can prioritize those things.

In 2017, with the calendar of unspent days stretching out in front of me, let’s learn about the ways in which our children feel loved. Happy New Year!

Knowing Where We’re From

I’ve been trying for weeks to pen a feeling I have about knowing physical places. The words keep alluding me; somehow, this idea floats in my being just beyond words. Nevertheless, with spring bursting on my doorstep, these words demand sharing.

In recent weeks, my children have each spoken words that captured what it means to know the place where we live. My six-year-old was telling her brother about her daily walk home from school: (more…)

Climbing UP The Slide? A Right To Recess? Powerful Princess? Yes, Please!

A few years ago, I was teaching a class to a group of early childhood educators, and one of the participants had just visited a local bookstore. On her desk sat a copy of It’s OK NOT To Share by Heather Shumaker. I was so intrigued by the title that I went out and bought my own copy immediately.

Good choice.

If you have read this blog for a while, you know I am a fan. Heather Shumaker is wise, funny, and so timely with her advice to parents and educators. So I am excited to share that (more…)

Sneak Peak

Okay, so remember last August when I told you I wrote a book? Way back then, it still didn’t have a title. But we’ve made progress!

Discovering the Culture of Childhood will be released in June 2016. The cover has been finalized, and I can give you a sneak peek today! Isn’t it lovely? The design team a Redleaf Press did a fabulous job; I couldn’t be more pleased!

Also, I am excited to share that my book features stories contributed by early childhood educators from across the United States and Canada of their work with young children, including Kisha Reid, Marc Battle, Kelly Matthews, Tom “Teacher Tom” Hobson, Melissa Cady, and Denita Dinger. Their voices add a spectacular richness and complexity to my narrative, and I am so grateful that they were willing to share their stories in this book.

The process of writing and editing has been incredibly rewarding, and I am thrilled to be so close to the publication date!