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Children need to play – a few hours every day, as self-directed and undisturbed as possible, together with other children, indoors and also outdoors. Whoever believes that play is a useless pastime, senseless and mere kids’ stuff, is mistaken. Playing is the most successful educational as well as developmental programme, the ultimate discipline for learning and the best didactics in the world! Here you are going to find out, why that is the case.
By Margit Franz, author of the book “Heute wieder nur gespielt – und dabei viel gelernt!” (“All play today – and so much learned!”)
The human is a “homo sapiens” and a “homo ludens”, so a wise and playing human being. Engaging in play is probably one of the oldest cultural practices of mankind. Humans share the instinct to play with many other mammals. Since this behaviour was spawned by evolution, the urge to play has been deeply rooted in humans. No human child has to be encouraged, motivated or prompted to play. They simply play – everywhere and anytime.
Like eating, drinking, sleeping, care, engaging in play is a basic human need. According to the progressive educator Maria Montessori, playing is the equivalent to working for children. When children play, they are fully engaged in it with seriousness and focus. Play is the child’s main activity and, at the same time, a looking glass into their development. Self-initiated play promotes learning and developmental processes in many ways.
No child plays with the intention to learn something sensible. Children are passionate about playing because it is fun. They enjoy self-determined activities and the self-efficacy they experience through them. Children are naturally curious and curiosity is the best didactics in the world. Without tiring of it, they experiment with new things and collect valuable life experiences in this way. Playful learning is sensual, holistic learning because it involves all their senses – even the activities deemed silly.
One of the core functions of movement-rich play is the provision of physical exercise for the still young body. Muscles, tendons and joints are strengthened. Motion sequences are tested, coordinated and learned. More complex activities are mastered increasingly in this way. The joy of movement becomes the engine for healthy development, facilitating the perception, awareness, control of and confidence in the body and physical movements, endurance as well as performance. The exertion of physical strength and emotional engagement challenge every part of the personality. All of that promotes a holistic personality development. Adventure and play beds can contribute significantly to this process. Particularly since the “exercise” happens daily and quite naturally on the side.
What appears contradicting at first, is a perfect match since play promotes the child’s best possible advancement. It is learning in its most fundamental form during childhood. Children comprehend the world playfully. Childhood and play researchers assume that a child needs at least 15,000 hours of self-directed play before they attend school. This equates to approximately seven hours a day.
When we observe playing children, we repeatedly witness how they process their experiences in a playful way. Via roleplay, they enact pleasant, enjoyable but also sad and scary experiences. Whatever the child chooses to play has sense and meaning to them. Reaching a certain goal or result is not that significant. It is the process of playing and the collection of experiences while playing by themselves or together with other children that are more important.
Mixed-age and gender playgroups offer ideal developing conditions for social learning. When kids play together they have to turn different play ideas into reality. To achieve this, they must reach agreements, develop rules, settle conflicts and negotiate solutions. The own needs have to be subordinated to a play idea and playgroup, to make playing together possible. Kids strive for social connection. They want to belong to a playgroup and thereby develop new behaviour patterns and strategies to enable them to connect. Engaging in play opens up the path to their own self, but also the path from Me to You to Us.
In a playful way children shape their own reality. Nothing is impossible – with the help of their wild imagination nearly everything is possible. Imagination, creativity and play are intrinsically connected. The plots of childlike games are complex as well as inventive. They are continuously being co-constructed anew. Challenges, that oftentimes arise while playing, need to be conquered. The search for solutions is an integral part of playing. This discovery-based learning enables the active process of personal world appropriation.
Playing is of great importance for friendships as well as for cross-cultural and cross-linguistic contacts. The day-care centre is a place where socio-cultural diversity can be experienced. Play is key to meet and interact with each other. Children learn to grow into their culture in a playful way and in the same playful way they approach each other because all children speak the same language when playing. Childlike openness for others as well as an interest in the new and unfamiliar builds bridges and facilitates the development of new relationship patterns.
Children have the right to leisure, rest and to engage in play. This Right to Play is anchored in Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child emphasises that children are to engage in play independently and less through the guidance of adults. It is the task of day-care centres to design stimulating spaces – indoors as well as outdoors – to enable uninterrupted play for children. A play-facilitating education enables girls and boys to develop their play competence and lets their parents participate in how well their children develop playfully.
First published in “Kindergarten Heute” 10/2017, p. 18-19
The professionally well-founded and at the same time practical guidebook “Heute wieder nur gespielt – und dabei viel gelernt!” (“All play today – and so much learned!”), written by Margit Franz, explains the importance of childlike play. It gives early childhood educators tools to confidently and convincingly present the many “advantages of play education” to parents as well as the general public.
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Margit Franz is an early childhood educator, “Diplom-Sozialpädagogin” (university degree in social education), “Diplom-Pädagogin” (university degree in education). She managed a day-care centre, worked as a research assistant at the Hochschule Darmstadt (Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences) and as a “Pädagogische Fachberatung” (education consultant). Today she is a self-employed education specialist, author and publisher of “PRAXIS KITA”.
the author’s website