Play is essential for young children’s cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development; exploration and discovery in play develops the ability to take healthy risks, build and test theories, and construct meaning. Physical play develops gross motor skills (which leads to the development of fine motor skills) and increases attention and overall well-being.
At ISTP, we intentionally foster this development by involving students in many decision-making processes, asking them what they think, and purposefully stimulating play around areas of vocabulary or social interaction to develop certain skills. Through play, it is easy to find connections to the foundations of math, literacy, art, music, science, and social-emotional learning.
For example, a water table with a variety of objects helps students understand concepts of sinking or floating. A dress-up corner and stage encourages storytelling and self-discovery. A set of wooden blocks teaches distance, weight, and balance as it is constructed into a town or a multi-level parking lot for little toy cars.
Play is motivation for children to learn, as they discover gaps in their ability of knowledge, and are motivated to learn so that they can participate, think, plan, and do. Play can also look different depending on a child’s development. These stages are not entirely linear, but when most children start school, they are just beginning to socialize. There is a gradual move from “spectator play” (watching others play, but playing on one’s own), to “parallel play” (where children play next to one another, perhaps doing the same activity, but not really engaging with each other). Eventually, children then move to predominantly “associative play,” where they may share toys or activities, and chat with each other, but there is still more independence than cooperation. It is usually in Kindergarten that we see “cooperative play,” when children more often work together to imagine a world, play a game, or complete a task.
Play is a key foundation from which students can explore the world around them and build upon their prior knowledge. It is through these opportunities that children become prepared for school and life as a whole.