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Are We Creating a White-Collar Child’s Workforce? {Children Need Play}

Are children getting enough time to play, or are we creating a 21st century white collar child’s workforce?

Children need play. Are we prioritizing this while they are still young enough to play intuitively?

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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?

As we work to help our children achieve as much as possible, are we creating a white-collar child workforce?
*If you are wondering, my daughter is not staring at a screen. She has post-it notes in an empty tablet case. She is showing me her “serious face”.

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.

Children need play. We have a lifetime for reading and writing, but only a few years to play like a child.

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:

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How do you make sure your child has time to play?

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MaryAnne at Mama Smiles
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MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

9 thoughts on “Are We Creating a White-Collar Child’s Workforce? {Children Need Play}”

  1. Such a great argument Mary-Ann. I really enjoyed reading this. I sometimes find it difficult to play with my 4 year old. He’s incredibly imaginative and always in a created world of his own that he wants me and his Dad to join in on. Sometimes it’s fun to join in and be the firefighting sidekick, or the fellow racing snail, or Paw Patrol member – sometimes it’s hard when I’m tired after working all day. Your post really reminded me of all the benefits and how important it is for kids to just play. Thanks!

  2. Preach it sister! It’s part of why I homeschool my kids because I know they need time to play. I’m sure if my kids were in public school they would need to be medicated because they do not sit still.

    1. I’m often tempted to homeschool for this reason. This year, my kids have amazing teachers who manage to make time for playful learning – no small feat given all the state and federal requirements that are thrown at them. It definitely helps that my kids can sit still with no trouble.

  3. I sooooo strongly believe this!!!!

    My top priority for my girls is giving them as much time for open ended play as possible.

    My oldest is 10 years old… almost 11. Her childhood is almost over and I want to know that I gave her the most time to play possible.

  4. Elisa | blissful E

    “White collar workers,” wow that is evocative, MaryAnne! I, too, am passionate about play. Right now my kids are “in India” (a place their grandparents recently visited), “American soldiers fighting in the northern front against Germany, rescuing people who are being hurt by the Germans.” It is completely imaginary play with no input from me. They are collaborating, negotiating, overcoming (imaginary) obstacles, practicing empathy, thinking about history and what they would change, all hugely beneficial for their cognitive and emotional health. Plus exercise, fresh air, sunshine, and dirt (!), which is wonderful for their physical health. I set aside at least a couple hours a day for outdoor free play for my children.

    1. What a wonderful scene! I find that, with so much of my children’s time already consumed by school I have to be very careful about what I add in and why.

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