Why children need to play

Play is ‘shorthand for imagination, curiosity…our creative dispositions,’ says David Elkind, the author of the 1981 classic The Hurried Child. And it’s in increasingly short supply, according to Elkind’s recent book The Power of Play.

In this story from the Christian Science Monitor (7/18/07), Elkind proposes that “through play, children create new learning experiences. These self-created moments enable children to acquire social, emotional and intellectual skills and grasp concepts they can’t acquire any other way.”

Elkind’s research suggests that over the past two decades, children have lost 12 hours of “free time” per week, including eight hours of unstructured time and outdoor activities.

The pressures on kids today also constrain their ability to play and use their imaginations,” says Elkind, who notes the transition of kindergartens from places dedicated to learning through play to “mini- first grades” with a sometimes frantic focus on academic learning.

And the consequences reach far beyond kindergarten, he contends. “Fantasy, curiosity, and imagination are the mental tools required for success in higher-level math and science. The failure to develop these tools [through play] is, in part at least, one of the reasons America is falling behind other countries in attracting young people into these fields.”

The Monitor story highlights a different approach, used in Waldorf Schools, which actually promotes playing skills that allow children to “act out their own ideas.”

“Through imagination and interaction,” says one Waldorf teacher, “children learn a passionate and compassionate respect for each other and the spiritual world around them.”

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