Play is an integral and essential component of children’s development. It is commonly accepted that we want to teach our children to think independently, but thinking at any level of complexity requires an exercise of three independent component categories of skills: problem solving; communications; and self-awareness. These skills cannot be learned by reading any number of books, although a little didactic material can be helpful. Rather, the kinds of skills needed for flexible, creative, rational thinking must be exercised, practiced, and learned in a process of interaction, risk-taking, self-expression, feedback and encouragement.
Motor + Physical Play
Motor play provides critical opportunities for children to develop both individual gross and fine muscle strength and overall integration of muscles, nerves and brain functions. Recent research has confirmed the critical link between stimulating activiity and brain development. Young children must have ample opportunities to develop physically and motor play instills this disposition towards physical activity in young children.
A variety of opportunities for chldren to engage in social play are the best mechanisms for progressing through the different social stages. By interacting with others in play settings, children learn social rules such as, give and take, reciprocity, cooperation and sharing. Through a range of interactions with children at different social stages, children also learn to use moral reasoning to develop a mature sense of values. To be prepared to function effectively in the adult world, children need to paricipate in lots of social situations.
Constructive play is when children manipulate their environment to create things. This type of play occurs when children build towers and cities withblocks, play in the sand, construct contraptions on the woodworking bench and draw murals with chalk on the pavement. Constructive play allows children to experiment with objects; find out combinations that work and don’t work; and learn basic knowledge about stacking, building, drawing, making music and constructing. It also gives children a sense of accomplishment and empowers them with control of their environment. Children who are comfortable manipulating objects and materials also become good at manipulating words, ideas and concepts.
Children learn to abstract, to try out new roles and possible situations, and to experiment with language and emotions with imaginative play. In addition, children develop flexible thinking; learn to create beyond the here and now; stretch their imaginations, use new words and word combinations in a risk-free environment and use numbers and words to express ideas, concepts, dreams and histories. In an ever-more technological society, lots of practice with all forms of abstraction (time, place, amounts, symbols, words and ideas) is essential.
Games with Rules
Developmentally, most children progress from an egocentric view of the world to an understanding of the importance of social contracts and rules. Part of this development occurs as they learn that games like ‘Follow the Leader’ ‘Red Rover’, ‘Simon Says’ Baseball and Soccer cannot function without everyone adhering to the same set of rules. The ‘Games with Rules’ concept teaches children a critically important concept – the game of life has rules (laws) that we all must follow to function productively together.
Ideas for Play at Home
At Riverhead Montessori we’re always keen to help if you need new ideas for play at home – sometimes it’s hard to break away from the same toys and the same activities! Parents eager to learn about the concept of ‘play’ in a Montessori setting can read Angeline Lillard’s article about Playful Learning or we really recommend the Confessions of a Montessori Mom blog too! Don’t be afraid to ask questions about ideas for things to do at home or even while away on holiday – our team are here to help.