University professor Leo F. Buscaglia said “It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.” Uninterrupted and extended spans of time for play that allow children the freedom to explore, express, and engage themselves in tasks of personal interest. Although free play is often misinterpreted as unstructured and insignificant in comparison to direct instruction, play is as Buscaglia notes, inextricably interwoven with learning and at the heart of what we facilitate daily in our classrooms.
The definitions of play vary widely, however experts agree that whether child or adult, play is tantamount to life. There have been many studies on play as it pertains to young children, however play is essential throughout the human life from birth until death. In 1959, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1386 adopted from the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924 as a part of entitlement to receive education declares, “The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavor to promote the enjoyment of this right”.
In an article The Value of School Recess and Outdoor Play from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), it says, “school recess is often the only time during the work week that children are able to be carefree–a time when their bodies and voices are not under tight control. It is a widely held view that unstructured physical play is a developmentally appropriate outlet for reducing stress in children’s lives, and research shows that physical activity improves children’s attentiveness and decreases restlessness” (NAEYC). In the last 20 years, the number of children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder has doubled with 70% on prescribed drugs. Meanwhile, children are spending less time outside, being active and with friends in exchange for consuming more media from an earlier age or schedules that are fully structured and micromanaged. Consequently, play is critical for lifelong wellbeing. “Play starts in the child’s infancy and ideally, continue throughout his or her life. Play is how children learn to socialize, to think, to solve problems, to mature and most importantly, to have fun” (Anderson-McNamee & Bailey, 2010).
In an emergent curriculum, it is the students play that guides our learning. By observing, listening, documenting, collaborating and reflecting, we can then provide meaningful and applicable learning opportunities. Ideally as participants and planners in their education, student engagement, agency, and proficiency increase. Cooperative learning that includes all stakeholders – families, students, educators, and schools – benefits everyone in the long term.
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/humanrights/resources/child.asp
National Association for the Education of Young Children. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.kidsource.com/kidsource/content4/school.recess.html
Anderson-McNamee, J., & Bailey, S. (2010). The importance of play in early childhood development. MontGuide, Retrieved from http://msuextension.org/publications/HomeHealthandFamily/MT201003HR.pdf