“What becomes visible as play characteristics during early childhood can be recognised later in a way a person acts when confronted with the demands of real (adult) life.” ~ Rudolf Steiner
Based on above quote one would have to believe that the “play” of children is extremely important for children’s health, learning and well-being. The importance of the play of child is being researched and it is positively acknowledged by the researchers.
They believe that, the natural way of “play” is vanishing from children’s life. It is being replaced by other play tools like electronic toys, plastic dolls, play stations, computer and virtual play. These virtual games seems to be similar to natural play, but they are not real. Children spending more time with such electronic play tools instead of natural way of playing may face dire consequences on their own future and ultimately the next generation.
A report from the Alliance for Childhood by Edward Miller and Joan Almon, says, Kindergarten has changed radically in the last two decades. Children now spend far more time being taught and tested on literacy and math skills than they do learning through play and exploration, exercising their bodies, and using their imaginations. Many kindergartens use highly prescriptive curricula geared to new state standards and linked to standardized tests. In an increasing number of kindergartens, teachers must follow scripts from which they may not deviate. These practices, which are not well grounded in research, violate long-established principles of child development and good teaching. It is increasingly clear that they are compromising both children’s health and their long-term prospects for success in school.
The argument of this report, that child-initiated play must be restored to kindergarten, will be dismissed and even ridiculed in some quarters. In spite of the fact that the vital importance of play has been shown in study after study, many people believe that play is a waste of time in school. School, they say, should be a place for learning. There’s plenty of time for play at home
Skepticism about the value of play is compounded by the widespread assumption that the earlier children begin to master the basic elements of reading, such as phonics and letter recognition, the more likely they are to succeed in school. And so kindergarten education has become heavily focused on teaching literacy and other academic skills, and preschool is rapidly following suit.
The common misconceptions about young children’s play fall apart when we look closely at what is really going on. We see the difference between superficial play and the complex make-believe play that can engage five-year-olds for an hour or more, fueled by their own original ideas and rich use of language. We start to distinguish between the sound of a chaotic classroom and the hum of energy when children are deeply engaged in the flow of play.
We also see the difference between didactic teaching of discrete skills in phonics, decoding, and word recognition, which may yield short-term gains in test scores in the early grades, and the deeper experiential learning whose benefits last into fourth grade and beyond. Reading First, the $6 billion federal program designed to help children from low-income families, greatly increased the amount of time children spent being taught discrete pre-reading skills in kindergarten and the early grades, but failed to improve reading comprehension.
This report is from European countries but the situation in our country is no different.
A report from Alliance for Childhood by Edward Miller and Joan Almon says that,“Young children work hard at play. They invent scenes and stories, solve problems, and negotiate their way through social roadblocks. They know what they want to do and work diligently to do it. Because their motivation comes from within, they learn the powerful lesson of pursuing their own ideas to a successful conclusion.”
Research shows that children who engage in complex forms of socio-dramatic play have greater language skills than nonplayers, better social skills, more empathy, more imagination, and more of the subtle capacity to know what others mean. They are less aggressive and show more self-control and higher levels of thinking.
Freeplay is a vital part of Waldorf kindergarten. Playmates come in the form of wooden blocks and wooden planks , sea shells, pebbles, handmade dolls and knitted animals, seeds , feathers, cotton and silk cloth pieces in various colours and many more such beautiful things that are natural.
There is a lot of scope for imagination and creativity, when we have unfinished playthings made from natural substance. A wooden block could be a bridge, puppet play ticket, building block or a phone.
A parent, mother of twins shared her experience ,”My daughters play hours together at home with few pieces of cloth and each time its a different play. I never have to search for toys for them”. Another parent said, “My son plays with his toy which we buy from shop for a week or so and then its gone forever but with few wooden blocks he plays everyday here in kindergarten” Both expressions tell us a lot.
It is amazing to experience the freeplay in kindergarten. A two and a half year old plays alone with few wooden blocks or a basket. The same child needs a friend when he is between 3 and 4 years old and a group of friends when he is five years and above. At this stage, a lot of discussion about the details of a situation in play takes place. Now, they do not need many playthings. The entire play is through their imagination. They are completely engrossed in it.
Play is also enacting the experiences of life eg. accidents, mishaps, death in family or a change of residence, new baby at home, guests at home or just an imitation of father, mother, teacher, grandparents.
Play like this prepares the child for challenges in life in a very subtle way not with a shock. Children who get this kind of experience take life in their stride. They can take success and failure as a part of life. I think this is just what is needed in todays scenario