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Let Children Play

         A FaceBook picture shows Capshaw Elementary School’s Pre-K students playing in mud puddles.  I applaud their teacher!  It wasn’t just an activity to improve tactile fine motor development – it was a learning experience.           

I’ve searched online and through my hand-written collection of quotes, but I haven’t found three simple words: let children play. I did discover many quotes about children and play.

         Maria Montessori, an educator and physician who was a leader in identifying how children learn, wrote that play is the work of the child.

         The beloved Fred Rogers, host of the educational television program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood for 33 years, said, “Play is often talked about as if it was a relief from serious learning, but for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” 

            Dr. Benjamin Spock, the child expert of my parents’ generation wrote, “A child loves his play, not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.”

         Play is work?  Yes, play is to engage in an activity, to pretend, to create, and work is performing a task that requires effort. 

         I’m reminded of what my Grand said when he was about six years old and sat under a forsythia brush while I trimmed it.  He used a small garden shovel to level roads for his Matchbox cars.  When I stepped near him, he said, “Watch out, Gran! I’m working under here.” Working, not playing.

         Oftentimes, we adults think we’re giving children freedom to play when we’re actually in control.  The play that Ms. Montessori, Mr. Rogers, and Dr. Spock encouraged is child-led play.  Not an organized team sport.  Not helping to build a tree house.  Not playing cards or board and tile games, which I invite my Grands to play with me.

         Children need unstructured, unplanned, undirected play. Digging in the dirt. Pretending to be a dragon.  Drawing purple sunflowers. Building a fortress with fallen branches.  Climbing trees. Watching an anthill. Throwing a ball against a wall.  Preparing a meal of mud and grass and twigs. Play that children think of and carry out independently.

         It’s the responsible of adults to provide children a safe place to play and supervise them, maybe from afar.  Let toddlers play within sight and give older children privacy.  Provide time, without distractions and directions. 

            Let children make a mess and be responsible for cleaning up.  Let children make mistakes and solve problems.  Through trial and error, lessons are remembered.

            Children need to learn to entertain themselves.  Provide supplies and tools that they request and have safe materials available, but don’t expect finished products. Expect experiences. Expect learning.

         The picture of children playing in mud puddles reminds me of the parents who decided their son wouldn’t begin Kindergarten even though he was old enough, according to school policy.  “He’s going to stay home and dig in the dirt another year,” the mother said. 

          Since I never found the simple quote I searched for, I’ll claim these words:  Let children play.  Give them the gifts of independence and confidence.


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