In anticipation of this year’s Play: Engaging Children in Object Rich Environments seminar, we spent this past week exploring the all-important concept of play. We delved into why play is important for children, and adults too. We thought about the many different types of play, and how play can be incorporated into structured experiences to make learning more meaningful and engaging.
Importance of Play
While some caregivers, school administrators, and policy makers are skeptical that a play-based curriculum can achieve academic learning, the educators who utilize play to teach developmental skills and content (listen to SEEC educators Melinda Bernsdorf and Erica Collins reflect on their use of play during an episode of Teacher Truths) can attest to the power of play in a child’s learning.
Play isn’t just important for children! With the advent and popularity of escape rooms, city scavenger hunts, sip and paints, social sports leagues, trivia nights, adult coloring books, and more, it seems that adults are embracing their need for play. Peter Gray, researcher at Boston College, likens a person’s need for play to their need for sleep; our minds and bodies will notice if we aren’t getting enough play. Taking time out of the day to engage in playful activities, in which we lose track of time, is essential to our well-being. With this in mind, our SEEC faculty participated in a survey to see how we play when not at work.
Types of Play
As evidenced by the survey above, everyone has different preferences for the type of play they enjoy. Some children (and adults) gravitate towards solo play, while others prefer to play with a group. Being outside and playing in nature is favored by some, and others prefer construction play indoors. Some love to get messy and really dive into sensory play, while some choose to participate in dramatic play, and still others will always engage in physical play. No matter what type of play children choose to engage in, we know that it’s all important to a child’s development. At SEEC, we recognize that every child learns in their own unique way, and thus, we offer many play opportunities for every type of learner, so that all children will find an activity that speaks to them. For example, during a family workshop on sculptures, the educators provided varied play opportunities to provide context for the concept, while allowing something for every child, no matter their preferred way of learning.
Unstructured, child-directed play is very important to a child’s development, and should be part of every child’s day. However, adult-facilitated, playful learning experiences make learning more meaningful and engaging for young children. Abstract concepts can become concrete through play, while children also build important developmental skills such as social competence. At SEEC, we incorporate play into lessons, encouraging children to be an active participant in their own learning. Whether they are learning about the anatomy of a sea star by becoming one, pretending to eat like a duck to learn about a duck’s life, becoming the parts of a wrecking ball, or pretending to row a crew boat after learning about all its parts, our children and educators engage in play in the museums and community every day to bring concepts to life.
Want to learn more through playing with colleagues at the Smithsonian? Join us for our Play seminar on July 9 and 10!