The Importance of Play

As a child growing up on a dairy farm in the small town of Madison, Georgia, my friends and I spent our days entertaining ourselves outdoors.  We only came home for a few minutes to grab a bite to eat before racing back outside to find something else to climb, ride, or even burn. No, I was not lighting the neighbor’s storage shed on fire.  However, I had a blast seeing how many small things I could burn using a magnifying glass. Take a minute and think back to your childhood. What were some things you did that bring back fond memories and a whimsical smile across your face? The logic behind the Top Ten Summer Challenge was to bring back some of those fun things we did as children, and I am thrilled at how you have embraced these fun challenges.  Each week I think of another idea to add to the challenge next summer. It’s the small, simple things in life that we sometimes forget, and I hope the memories you make with your children as you complete the list this summer will remain with them for years to come.

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Speaking of childhood memories, who remembers Mr. Rogers and his magical neighborhood?  Fred Rogers had so many words of wisdom, and one of my favorite quotes is, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” Today, most of our children’s time is spent indoors, and an average of almost fifty hours a week is spent being plugged into some type of electronic device.  One also finds that today’s child is so scheduled with various lessons, team sports, and other appointments that he or she is not allowed to be bored. Time doesn’t allow for a child to come up with games on one’s own, play things that involve getting messy, or try something that allows risks to be taken – stomping in mud puddles and being covered in mud, climbing trees, digging for worms and putting them on a hook to catch a fish, and the list goes on.  We also find ourselves interfering with play time to break up disagreements or assist with a problem rather than letting children figure things out for themselves.

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Children are naturally curious, and at Brookstone, we build on that curiosity. One of the many ways we do that is through play.  Playing is one of the most important jobs a Brookstone Lower School student has. It is not only fun but also essential to a child’s growth and development. Play is fun, flexible, intrinsically motivated, involves active engagement, and doesn’t always have an exact outcome.  It has the power to help your child learn the important skills needed to lead a happy and healthy life. Some studies even show play as a remedy for depression, isolation, and fearfulness. Be it on the playground or in the classroom, I want to share with you some areas that play directly impacts a Brookstone Lower School student.

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Play fosters effective communication.  When our students play, they are developing speech, language, and listening skills.  Even when a child plays alone, he or she is usually talking. I love watching a 3K child sitting in the middle of Mrs. Gill’s room as he narrates what he is building and gives voice to the small animals that are coming and going from his masterful creation. He may or may not have an audience, but he doesn’t care because he is focused on his task at hand. Our students communicate organizational ideas when they play with others, like deciding who will be the leader or what direction they will take.  Disagreements pop up, and children talk through the issues and work on how to compromise. So much language is learned through play as students are exposed to additional vocabulary, which is quickly incorporated into their own language.

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Play inspires creativity.  Pretending and imaginative play is alive and well in the Lower School. Students use a variety of things to spur their imagination because they have learned symbolism, where one thing can stand for other things. What is a magic wand on Monday, can be a spoon to stir a delicious pot of imaginary soup on Tuesday, followed by a conductor’s baton on Wednesday. With the dress-up clothes in 3K through Kindergarten, students play a variety of roles in scenarios that are only limited by their creativity. This ability to role-play continues to grow as they move from first to third grade, and it is even reflected in their story-telling, as well as their writing pieces as they begin the study of fiction. 

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Play provides our students with opportunities to develop social skills. Through play, children learn to work with others toward a common goal. On any given day, I watch students negotiating, cooperating, and sharing. I even see students being assertive and taking the lead within a playgroup. Social skills are being developed and friendships are being built, as well as tested. During these play-based opportunities, students are learning to work through their emotions.  They learn self-regulation and impulse control, which is essential for academic, as well as social success. One of my favorite moments from this past year was when a kindergarten student politely interrupted his fellow playmates and said, “I think we should stop and hear what William has to say. I think he has a good idea, and we should give him a chance to tell us what he thinks we should do.” It was beautiful to watch. William was proud of himself for having a great idea, and the fellow classmate that spoke up was even more proud because he intervened and asked the group to stop and listen.  Everyone walked away happy!

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Play is crucial to the development of a child’s fine and gross motor skills. Our PE coaches, as well as our teachers, use play to allow children to practice and perfect control and coordination of large body movements, as well as small movements of hands and fingers. I find this happening inside and outside our classrooms, from stringing beads, sorting small objects with tweezers, and painting to jumping rope, learning to skip, and catching a football at recess. I’ve even seen our students lying on their backs, drawing on a piece of paper taped to the underside of a table.  They were too busy having fun to know they were building proximal muscle strength. The same rings true for stacking blocks into towers and shoveling sand into a bucket; our boys and girls are unaware they are developing hand-eye coordination. 

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One of the most important outcomes of play is the development of confidence.  Without confidence, a child struggles with taking risks and trying new things. This is one of the many areas where Brookstone shines.  You will find in all divisions an environment where students feel safe to try new things, to step out and take risks that are out of one’s comfort zone.  Our 3K and PreK students use their teachers as their safety net as they explore and learn through play. As they move to Kindergarten, the confidence continues to grow as they become more independent, still trusting the adults around them but having the courage to begin taking charge of their own learning. In each grade, you can clearly see the confidence grow, and our students begin taking risks as they step out and try new things.

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Happy, playful moments are some of the most precious gifts we can give our children, and the importance of play is understood and embraced in the Brookstone Lower School.  From our classrooms and playgrounds to the gyms and tree-covered area Roaring Branch, our beautiful campus lends itself to endless play opportunities. Should you want to learn more about the importance of play at Brookstone, please feel free to contact me at lfloyd@brookstoneschool.org .

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