The importance of play in Early Childhood Education is slowly, but surely, finding its way into news feeds across the globe. Play has a fundamental role in shaping a child’s early development both cognitively and physiologically. Research dates as far back as 1964 when neuroscientists like Marion Diamond conducted experiments on rats that exposed them to playful environments vs. “boring” environments. It is evident that extended opportunities to play actually enhances brain development. Relaying this information to teachers, parents and caregivers is a critical piece in the process of cultivating these essential life skills that are acquired though the important work of playing. I will often hear parents inquire about why we include so much open ended play time into the preschool schedule at Bixby. Isn’t a more structured environment better for children? When play is limited, so is the opportunity to construct one’s own learning. Weaving open ended playtime into the busy preschool schedule of activities like swim, gym, group time, Music, French and Spanish ensures that each child has the opportunity to orchestrate their own play and learning with the support of teachers.
As teachers, we foster opportunities for play by simply observing the children and noticing their interests. It is imperative that we find ways to expand the play environment so children can delve deeper into subject matter and social situations that are relevant to them. Some of the strategies we use to support this deeper learning through play include; adding culturally appropriate materials to the environment; asking them questions about their play, assisting with conflict resolution and modeling positive communication as co-players.