Fostering Healthy Development through Play in the Early Years

The changes that have occurred in the last two decades around the societal norms for young children are astounding! Rather than spending time outdoors, playing with friends, and gaining important knowledge though such activities and interactions, a great many children are now often involved in passive—not active—experiences, and the time for free play when they rely upon their imaginations to create fantastical scenarios has greatly diminished. However, play is the vehicle through which a young child learns best, and it’s critical that children have time to play and space to move. 

It can be challenging for parents of young children today to avoid getting caught up in the notion that the earlier one starts exposing a child to academic subjects, the better. The focus on formalized instruction at an early age fails to give children the opportunity to construct important conceptual meaning and understanding for themselves. 

At FJECC, we believe that play is a core activity in a young child’s development, so we look to create a stimulating environment where children are encouraged to explore with our support. 

For example, when children play with blocks in the classroom or wooden “tree cookies” in our Rita and Adam J. Weiner and Family Outdoor Classroom, they learn about concepts such as size, balance, weight and number, not to mention the physical and social skills they are developing. When our students discover nature’s treasures through scavenger hunts or plant herbs and vegetables in our organic garden, they are acquiring lots of knowledge in an active way. Whether climbing on our outdoor structure, dancing to the beat of music or creating rocket ships and castles, important learning is taking place! Creating an obstacle course on the playground, hiding amongst pine branches to practice the art of camouflage or transforming ice into water, all such activities lead to the acquisition of important intellectual concepts through play. 

When children are involved in dramatic play, they often use gadgets and materials found in the environment to represent objects they need for their scenario. As an example, if they are pretending to drive a car they may pick up an aluminum pie-plate found in the kitchen area to represent the steering wheel, or they may pick up a block to use as a telephone in the dramatic play area. These kinds of representational skills practiced by the children help them to conceptualize an understanding of abstract thinking.

The interactions of children in play prepare them for the give and take required in social relationships. It is through play that children learn how to take turns, share and negotiate. The foundation of all cognitive skills is acquired through play. To quote Albert Einstein, “Play is the highest form of research.” So let us return if at all possible, to a less hurried life for children where they are given lots of opportunity to play, be creative, and use their imaginations. What a blessing it would be for every young child to have this kind of childhood!