“This is a children’s home for bears. It’s night time and they are going to go on an adventure, Cheryl.”
According to Wikipedia, “Play is a range of voluntary, intrinsically motivated activities normally associated with recreational pleasure and enjoyment.” Yet, in the early childhood setting, play is the vehicle by which children learn. Play is an experience, and because human beings learn by experience, play is the most optimal way to learn. When a child watches television,or plays a video game, they are being entertained and they are NOT having an experience. Studies that show a correlation between screen time amounts and academic performance are measuring the absence of learning in children who watch a lot of television. Even though it looks like your child is learning when they watch Sesame Street or they play an ‘educational’ video game, they are not getting the quality of learning that occurs when they actually play.
In this photo, a child has used blocks and small, plastic bears to create a story. She is learning one-to-one correspondence (each bear has a bed), she is developing oral story-telling skills (foundational literacy), communication, and focus.
In order for deep and meaningful learning to occur, children need to be given time. This child sat at the table for 20 minutes putting the scene together. Did she sit down knowing that this was what she wanted to do? Probably not. Did she push pieces around the table until she started to build something with purpose? Yes. Would she have been able to do this if she only had 30 minutes to play? Maybe. But, given the push for faster, smarter, more interesting kids, isn’t it wonderful to know that the way to get an engaged, fun, and gifted kid is to just let them play?