A Child’s Work is Play

By Polly Smith, Pilgrim Kindergarten Teacher

Summer break is here! For many, it’s a sigh of relief after what feels like a longer than normal school year. For children, it’s a chance to have fun, explore, and play! 

In many ways, play was put on pause this past year as in-class learning gave way to online classrooms. However, if there was ever a year where students needed play-based learning, this was it. Stress, anxiety, and unknowns were high for all. Amidst the challenges, early childhood students at Pilgrim spent the past school year engaged in play in the classroom. 

At Pilgrim, we believe that a whole-child approach offers the best learning environment for our students. Our play-based early childhood program is a foundation of that belief. An article from the American Academy of Pediatrics states, “Research demonstrates that developmentally appropriate play with parents and peers is a singular opportunity to promote the social-emotional, cognitive, language, and self-regulation skills that build executive function (i.e., the process of learning, rather than the content) and a prosocial brain” (American Academy of Pediatrics). 

In addition, play leads to self-expression, imagination, practice with problem solving, and use of both fine and gross motor skills (“Play Is a Child’s Job”). These skills are especially important as children are learning in the early school years. These are all areas that Pilgrim’s whole-child approach helps to address. 

How to Encourage Play-Based Learning

For those looking to reinforce the skills gained through play at home, try to encourage your child’s explorations and lead. Play doesn’t necessarily mean fancy toys or hours spent engaged in pretend play with your child. Play is children engaging in ways of their own construction oftentimes with their own rules. In my kindergarten classroom, this may look like students setting up ‘shops’ to sell items to one another, writing signs, creating their own paper money, and deciding who will play what role. As the teacher, I observe their play but try not to interject my ideas. Even if I know something may work better than what they have planned, I let them try their own plans to encourage problem solving and self-regulation. As a parent, you can seek to do the same. 

One of my favorite poems (now a book) that I often share with incoming families is “Just Playing” by Anita Wadley Schlaht (“Play Is a Child’s Job”). It talks about how what a child does at school may look like they are ‘just playing’. However, the reality is that they are learning, exploring, and gaining knowledge and skills for the future. The final verse of the poem says this: 

 “When you ask me what I’ve done at school today,

And I say, “I just played.”

Please don’t misunderstand me.

For, you see, I’m learning as I play.

I’m learning to enjoy and be successful in my work.

I’m preparing for tomorrow.

Today, I am a child and my work is play.”

I love this reminder that a child’s work is play and the importance of this should not be overlooked.

Happy playing this summer!

“…if there was ever a year where students needed play-based learning, this was it.”

Polly Smith, Pilgrim Kindergarten Teacher