Jun 202012

According to a study, by the American Academy of Pediatrics,

“Parents receive messages from a variety of sources stating that good parents actively build every skill and aptitude their child might need from the earliest ages. They are deluged in parenting magazines and in the media with a wide range of enrichment tools and activities that tout their ability to produce super-achieving children. They read about parents who go to extreme efforts, at great personal sacrifice, to make sure their children participate in a variety of athletic and artistic opportunities. They hear other parents in the neighborhood talk about their overburdened schedules and recognize it is the culture and even expectation of parents.”

In other words, parents are being told that more is more is more.

And from my totally anecdotal wanderings on the internet and ramblings with friends I’ve seen this to be true even at the toddler and preschool ages. Parents wondering if their two-year-olds are missing out because they aren’t enrolled in enough activities. Flashcards being promoted for babies. Great concern by everyone when a child develops slightly slower than the kid next door (even though the child is still within a “normal” developmental range).

And you know what’s getting left behind in this pursuit of academic excellence prior to even kindergarten?

Play. Specifically, unstructured child-led play.

Where kids use their imaginations. Where they dress up their dolls and feed them lunch. Where they run around outside and discover bugs.

And this is not good. Because play is how children (particularly young ones) learn. The above study states that play:

  • Fosters creativity
  • Promotes brain development
  • Helps kids conquer fears
  • Develops leadership skills
  • Builds healthy bodies

And the list goes on and on. Yet it’s so easy to get caught up in the hype. To wonder if we’re doing enough.

Just last week during VBS my daughter was in the nursery. Some other kids just slightly older than her participated in the preschool group. And I wondered if she was missing out. If we were holding her back by leaving her in the nursery. But my husband led preschool games and said there is no way our daughter would have been able to follow the organized games. She’s not ready to follow instructions and play a formal game as of yet.

And that’s okay. Because she was busy doing what she does in the nursery. Smiling at the babies and asking to touch their toes. Asking someone to read her a book. Throwing around a ball. Talking constantly to anyone who will listen. :)

And she’s learning. A lot. Though I’ve never sat down with her with the intention of teaching her anything in particular, she picks stuff up.

Because when it comes to our kids, maybe less really is more.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between learning and play for children? Do you ever get caught up in the hype that more is more?

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 Posted by at 12:01 am

  11 Responses to “Learning through Play”

  1. Very refreshing to hear (or read) someone else with view. As we watch our son transition into adulthood, we find ourselves doubting what we did or didn’t do. But one thing we are thankful for is the time we let him just be a child and not play every organized sport to the point of neglecting family and church.

    • It’s encouraging to hear from someone who’s been there done that. Especially someone who’s obviously raised a kid who’s on the right path.

  2. I’m a big fan of unstructured play. In fact I think I’m going to avoid organized sports until my kiddo is much older, for when it’s actually beneficial for them. Right now, they learn how to deal with social situations, figure out how things work and have fun through play.

  3. My son is 21 months and I occasionally get this vaguely anxious feeling that I’m not organizing his life sufficiently; there aren’t flashcards in our house and no organized out-of-home activities other than Story Time at the library. But honestly, I’m more interested in encouraging him into being the person he is than molding him. He loves books, so we read. He loves music, so we dance. He doesn’t have a lot of attention for art projects, so we do a little and move on. Mostly, I just try to let him be a kid and provide an environment that encourages exploration and fun and love. There will be plenty of times in his life that he’ll be pushed in regards to achievement. It just doesn’t need to happen here and now.

    • “It just doesn’t need to happen here and now.” Exactly. Thanks for sharing your experience. I love that you let him lead with books and music and don’t push art projects past his interest.

  4. I am a huge fan of unstructured play. I have done a lot of research and reading and I really believe it is really what is best for them when they are young. I read Last Child of the Woods last year and it was really interesting to see the shift in how little kids play outside these days.

    We are definitely counter cultural in these things, but I’m okay with that…I think I have gotten over the fact and just realize we will probably always be a bit counter cultural. Doing what we each think is best for our family is key!

  5. [...] written before about my firm belief in the importance of free play. Here’s what it’s looked like in our house [...]

  6. [...] do preschool (just learning through play right [...]

  7. [...] easy to make a point. About learning through play. About marriage. About faith and parenting. About almost anything, [...]

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