Tonight is a very special event, hosted by our local Children’s Discovery Museum!  We have the privilege to attend an evening with Dr. Stuart Brown, author and founder of the National Institute of Play.  In fact, 2011, happens to be the “Year of Play” and several events hosted by the museum have focused on just this topic! In honor of this event, I have invited a guest blogger from the Bloomington/Normal Area to share her thoughts on PLAY.

Darla Hutson is the founder of The Preschool Toolbox and director of the College Hills Day School. College Hills Day School, located in Normal, IL is a private childcare home for children ages 6 weeks through 7 years and offers a curriculum that supports the development of each individual through play, discovery and fun.  In addition, Darla is also founder of the Preschool Toolbox, a one-stop-shop and blog for valuable learning tools that contain information for teachers, childcare providers, and parents who want fun and educational activities for their young children.  Thank You Darla for begin our guest today!

We, as parents and teachers, know the importance of educating our children and offering age-appropriate activities that will stimulate tiny minds to grow.  In the past four decades we have slowly witnessed a decline in PLAY (that pure, get down in the MUD, kind of play).  The National Association for Education of the Young Child (NAEYC) has called on parents and educators to introduce greater opportunities for pure PLAY on a daily basis.  For young children, physical movement and pure play activate the entire body’s internal “wiring” for increased learning potential.
Young children gain social, cognitive, emotional, physical, and creative skills when simply…playing.  Pure play has no real GOAL; there is no correct way to do it.  That freedom allows our children to practice many important and emerging skills.  Some of these important skills cannot be acquired through structured learning; if play is limited, we essentially rob our young children of opportunities to gain skills that are critical for sound development.  For the sake of simplicity, let’s focus on a play activity such as digging in the dirt.  If you have ever watched a child dig in the mud, it really is an amazing thing!  The child has to decide what to dig with, how to physically make the dirt MOVE, what he will do or make with the dirt, how to negotiate roles, turn taking, potential conflicts, and the needs/feelings of others when playing with siblings or peers.  The child will receive information from other children or even from the DIRT.  If a stick is used and the dirt doesn’t move, the child then has information that he must DO something with.  Nonverbal communication from the play environment is as important as verbal communication from other children and/or adults.  Both sources give our children critical social, emotional, and physical inputs to garner creative thinking and movement skills.
According to Gill Connell, movement expert and author, “…as adults, we’re expected to be strong, mature and in control at all times:  responsible, efficient, effective, and results-oriented…those qualities often make parents ineffective play partners for children.”  Learning to play and offering unstructured play opportunities for our children will enhance all areas of a child’s growth and development.  Our children KNOW how to play when left to their own natural desires and instincts.  To help promote an environment conducive to our children’s natural instincts for play, there are a few ‘rules’ to stand by:  1) make time for play be spontaneous and allow the child to lead, 2) where possible, get down at eye level and play from the child’s view of the environment, and 3) relax, have fun, be safe, and enjoy childhood!

Additional Resources:

For structured and unstructured play activities, please visit The Preschool Toolbox Blog

For ways to get your child moving and learning, please visit Moving Smart by Gill Connell

The National Association of the Young Child

 It’s Playtime: A Blog Link Up of Activities and Ideas for Play!

Playopedia: A Comprehensive listing of unique play ideas