ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Early Childhood Education Programs: Play

Thomas Armstrong, education expert, author, and Whole Child Podcast guest, just can't say enough about the importance of play. The chapter "Early Childhood Education Programs: Play" is excerpted from Armstrong's ASCD book Best Schools, which looks at not just best schools, but also best practices for teaching and learning. In this chapter, Armstrong points to early education practices that actually hinder young learners rather than helping them to get ahead.

Cutting out play is one such practice that thwarts child development, says Armstrong. A young child, particularly, needs to be in a safe environment where he can touch, sense, and move in order to learn.

"The incredible plasticity of the child's brain points to the importance of the child's surroundings—a safe and caring social and emotional space coupled with a hands-on interactive environment—in promoting healthy neurological growth. The high metabolic activity in a young child's brain suggests that the child should be exposed to dynamic, creative, and multisensory experiences. Children's play represents the single best way in which [these] developmental requirements can be met," says Armstrong.

"Sadly, in our culture, play is undergoing a significant deterioration," says Armstrong, who notes that placing a child in front of a television, computer, or video game is not the same as allowing the child unstructured play time. Armstrong notes that organized sports also do not fit his definition of play.

"Play is an open-ended experience initiated by children that involves pretense, rough-and-tumble activity, or the spontaneous use of real objects for creative activity," he says. "Depriving young children of play experiences, the reverie of imagination, and open-ended explorations with the world around them contributes to the acceleration, fragmentation, and deterioration of young children's developmental possibilities."

Read the full chapter.

This article originally appeared in ASCD Express.

Comments (2)

Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D.

October 18, 2013

I agree that play is very important for children to learn. It is also important for teachers to consider how their homework assignments might interfere with necessary play. Since children don’t work at the same pace and since the homework session is not bound by a clock (like the school day is), homework demands strip children, who work more slowly than their peers, of the play they need in order to learn. I posted a link to this article on my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/thehomeworktrap

Darell Hammond CEO KaBOOM!

October 21, 2013

Important points Dr Goldberg, I would also add that teachers should assign unstructured preferably outdoor play as homework daily! Could also keep a “play journal” just as many kids keep reading journals. Thoughts?

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