It's a complex and growing activity and can be a tremendous conduit for learning and development.
When I say children's play I am referring to the play of children between the ages of birth through around 8 years of age.
There has been much discussion and debate about the importance of children playing but one thing we see for sure, children that don't play enough as youngsters, will play as adults and not take on the responsibilities they should have been prepared for by being allowed to play as a child.
There has so much emphasis on early academics, plus an enormous amount of T.V watching and computer time that play has unfortunately come to take a back seat to these otherwise "more important" activities.
Play leads to meaningful learning and can also be taken to the next level.
I am going to discuss 6 areas of children's development and some brief points of how they are enhanced by play.
Cognitive development: When children play, they acquire concepts that they may not get without being involved in play. They learn to problem solve, understand various economics as they play store and house and learn about adults roles.
Social and Emotional Development: As children play they develop friendship, they learn to take turns, to share, to negotiate, resolve conflicts and postpone gratification.
Physical Development: Large and fine motor skills ar developed, as are balance, coordination and flexibility.
Language and Literacy: As children act out roles and stories they learn more language, develop problem solving skills and increase their vocabularies.
Creativity: Adding or changing an environment encourages great creativity in children. they also learn to explore their play with ideas and new curiosity.
Academic development: Without even going into the three R's good children's play helps enhance memory, attention span, direction following, problem solving and thinking imaginatively.
These points only touch on some of the benefits of play for children's learning.
You can also take children's playing to the next level. For that, you, the adult has to get involved.
The adult that is involved in kids play does a few things. She or he provides the materials to extend play, helps resolve conflicts, models how to use the materials that children are unfamiliar with, suggests how they can use the materials and can also actually play with the children.
In most Early Childhood classrooms there is a housekeeping corner where children go to play. In my day it was called dramatic play. Today it is called sociodramatic play.
Since kids can only play what they know there is a way to extend the children's play by introducing them to new places and concepts and then supplying them with the materials they will need to play out the new concepts.
For example: If children are taken to a bakery for a field trip, their housekeeping area can be turned into a Bakery.
Baking utensils, dough, cash registers and furniture can be added to the children's bakery.
The children can then bake with the adult, experiment with yeast, measure with measuring spoons and get books like "Bakers Make Many Things" by Carol Greene.
So there you see included in the children's play is math, science and literacy.
All one needs is a little bit of imagination, to listen to what children are playing, take them on field trips to expand their horizons and then help them play by giving them the materials they need to really learn through play.
Faige Kobre a former preschool teacher and director for many years is a graduate of Bank Street College Of Education probably the foremost graduate school in the area of progressive education. Aside from her teaching and directing experience she also runs workshops for teachers specializing in non crafts art for the preschool classroom. http://www.educationalartsandcrafts.com. She also has a blog specifically for preschool teachers at http://www.preschoolmusings.com