A few weeks ago, I was talking to a local kindergarten teacher. I asked her how the year was going, and she confessed that this year was a struggle. Her previous year’s class had been “so good”, completing every assignment without questioning beyond seeking clarification on the assignment. This year’s class, she said, “just wants to play.” She was struggling to get through the required material, because the children needed to play, and they were making that need clear. I stood listening and wondered, are we trying to create a white-collar child workforce, instead of giving children the environment they need to grow and learn? When children’s test results are tied to school funding and teacher pay levels, our schoolchildren are literally working for the school.
Have We Created a White-Collar Child’s Workforce?
The kindergarten teacher I spoke with cares about each and every one of her students and wants to do what is best for them. She has been teaching for decades, and she loves her job. This year she is struggling because her students desperately want to play, and they are making that desire clear. The teacher is trying to balance the academic demands that are being placed on her as a teacher by the educational system with her desire to give her students what they need. Her previous year’s class did not seem to need to play as much. I suspect they would have benefited from more play time every bit as much as this year’s class, but because the need was not obvious they weren’t given that opportunity.
The Pursuit of Excellence
As parents and educators, we want to see the children in our lives achieve as much as possible. In our quest to give our children more, do we forget that play is what they need most? I am a passionate defender of play, but even I find myself pulled towards opportunities for my kids and having to pull back to carefully examine whether the additional skills my children will develop are a fair trade-off for the time they will lose playing. We have a lifetime for reading and writing and structured skill-building, but only a few years to play like a child. We each get exactly one year to play as a one-year-old plays. One year to play as a two-year-old plays. One year to play as a three-year-old plays. One year to play as a five-year-old plays, and one year to play as a ten-year-old plays. Play changes so much throughout childhood. It’s easy to dismiss play, as “just play”, but children use playtime to discover critical life skills. Through play, children learn to express emotions. Through play, children learn to work through conflicts and fears. Through play, children experience joy. Through play, children discover what they love.
As your child plays, they explore the way the world works. They explore the way they work – in a safe space. They are able to tackle difficult topics that would feel crippling in a non-play environment. As they play, they set the foundation for their adult self. They learn how to be brave when life is difficult – by practicing through play. They learn how to express emotions by narrating and play-acting dramatic characters. They examine cause and effect relationships. They build hopes and dreams, and catch glimpses of their own personal potential. If they play enough, they create memories of how to play that will help them survive challenges as adults.
An awareness of the importance of childhood pulled children out of factories and blue-collar jobs. In our quest to build bright futures, we risk turning our children into a white-collar workforce – constantly working towards the future without first building a foundation in the present. Through play, children build frameworks and a lay a foundation for adulthood. Without play, they are left unprotected in the storms of life.
Read more about the importance of play and the benefits of play in these books:
- Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul
- The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally
- A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play
How do you make sure your child has time to play?