Play in the early childhood classroom is going the way of the one-room schoolhouse – and there probably couldn’t be a bigger mistake made if we want children to develop to their full potential. Unfortunately, play is now too often considered “frivolous” and unrelated to learning. Few people, it seems, understand its connection to brain and cognitive development. So I invited Ann Barbour and Deborah McNelis to Studentcentricity to explore that connection, specifically as it relates to dramatic play.
After our discussion, Ann, author of Play Today, published by Gryphon House, sponsor of the episode, contributed this takeaway:
Dramatic play is the primary form of play for preschool and kindergarten-age children. It is foundational to their development and learning across all developmental domains. In addition to helping create and strengthen synaptic connections in children’s brains, it promotes the “executive functions” of working memory, self-regulation and cognitive flexibility, all of which are necessary for success in school and in life.
Teachers can encourage well-developed dramatic play by stocking a designated space with open-ended, life-size materials that support different roles. Changing themes keeps interest up. Being there to facilitate when necessary can help children deepen engagement and benefit most from opportunities to learn.
It is more important than ever to document learning through dramatic play. Digital photos and smart phone videos accompanied by brief explanations of what children are doing and learning in the process help justify the central role of dramatic play in early childhood curriculum. This type of concrete evidence shows administrators, other teachers and families how dramatic play encourages children’s attainment of key skills and conceptual understandings related to program or district standards.
Deb is the founder of Brain Insights. She added:
Our education system and entire society cannot afford to continue to allow large numbers of children to miss out on the positive and essential experiences that contribute to strong brain connections as a result of play. It is needed at every age as the brain develops, but interactive and imaginative opportunities are critical during early childhood. The costs in terms of lost potential and increasing rates of emotional and behavioral problems are too high. Brain research shows us what children need. Our responsibility is to ensure that every adult understands and every child benefits from this knowledge!
Everyone in the community can easily contribute to creating greater awareness and understanding through sharing. Possible ideas for sharing from the Brain Insights Creating Great Community Connections Presentation:
- Company or school newsletters
- Community bulletin boards
- E-mail signature insights
- Posts on social network sites
- Share brain insights at meetings
- Public service announcements
- Develop community groups focused on child development
- Good news stories of positive outcomes shared with media
- Recognition events
It’s unfortunate that we early childhood professionals have to work so hard to advocate for play these days. As I wrote in my most recent book, we shouldn’t have to defend play for children any more than we should have to defend their eating, breathing, and sleeping. But, should you need more “ammunition” with which to defend it, listen to my interview with Ann and Deborah here and do check out Ann’s book.