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The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and KaBOOM! are working together to help kids get the balanced and active play they need to thrive. Rhian Evans Allvin, Executive Director of NAEYC, and Darell Hammond, Founder and CEO of KaBOOM!, discuss the importance of play in education and the positive impact it has on communities.
Why is play important to education?
Allvin: Neuroscience has confirmed that the period from birth to age 5 includes rapid brain development–setting the foundation for cognitive, social/emotional, language and motor skills. In order to achieve the academic excellence and equity that is essential–we must invest in our children during this window of explosive development.
Children engage in various kinds of play providing opportunities to develop physical competence, enjoyment of the outdoors, comprehension of their world, interaction with others, emotional expression and control, development of their symbolic and problem-solving abilities, and practice emerging skills. Research shows correlations between play and foundational capacities such as memory, self-regulation, oral language abilities, social skills, and success in school.
From infancy, children act on the world around them for the pleasure of seeing what happens. Around age 2, children begin to demonstrate symbolic use of objects. By the age of 3-5 they may act out specific roles. Such play is influential in developing self-regulation, as children are highly motivated to stick to the roles and rules of the play, grow in the ability to inhibit their impulses, and act in coordination with others. High-level dramatic play produces documented cognitive, social, and emotional benefits.
Hammond: Critical thinking and collaboration are integral to the jobs of the future, and balanced and active play helps kids develop these 21st century skills.
Unfortunately, play is disappearing in our schools. The Journal Pediatrics found that 30 % of children surveyed had little to no recess in their school day. At KaBOOM!, we believe play should be part of a well-rounded school day. Play helps children adjust to the school setting, enhances their learning readiness, and indirectly contributes to children learning more hard skills by mitigating behavioral problems and increasing academic engagement.
We are thrilled to partner with NAEYC, to raise awareness about the importance of play in early childhood education. As part of this commitment, we are granting Imagination Playgrounds to 10 NAEYC member sites. This unique and innovative play product will help transform regular classrooms into playspaces that encourage learning, social development, critical thinking, movement, and fun!
How does play benefit kids?
Allvin: As children play they demonstrate their approaches to learning, they engage with others in a social relationship, they express emotion, they attempt things that are challenging, yet achievable–enhancing their self-esteem. There’s also an integration of math, literacy, science, and other academic areas–constructing, classifying, sorting, seriating, quantifying, and practicing other skills. Physical play supports the development of gross and fine motor skills. Research now demonstrates the development of self-regulation or executive function in sociodramatic (pretend) play leads to higher achievement!
Hammond: Just as a healthy diet balances proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and other nutrients, a balanced “play diet” should include a mix of all kinds of play, because different types have different benefits. For example, play-dough creations, blocks, and make-believe spark the imagination and teach problem-solving. Running, jumping, and climbing get legs moving and hearts pumping. And exploring playgrounds with families or playing hide-and-seek with friends helps kids learn to work together, collaborate, and share. A balance of play means active minds, active bodies, and active together to realize all of play’s benefits.
What impact can play have on cities?
Hammond: Across the U.S., communities are engaged in fierce competition for the future. They are competing for businesses, economic development, and jobs. They are competing for residents. The fact is, for communities to thrive, they need to ensure that all of their residents are happy, healthy, and contributing to their overall vitality. One essential component is a renewed commitment to fostering family-friendly, kid-friendly environments that allow young people to get their bodies moving and their minds engaged no matter where they are.
Currently we have inequitable distribution of services, resources, and opportunities for low-income families. This inequity serves to perpetuate the cycle of poverty that threatens our nation's economic future. Creating family-friendly cities filled with play is a competitive advantage for cities to attract and retain residents, and it directly impacts the kids that need it most.