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The Importance of Play!

17.10.2013

‘Play is the work of children.’ Jean Piaget

Steiner Waldorf education, particularly in the Early Years settings, has an emphasis on the importance of play and what this activity gives to the children with regard to their development.

‘To a healthy child, playing is not only a pleasurable pastime, but also an absolutely serious activity. Play flows in real earnest out of the child’s entire organism.’  Rudolf Steiner

Child-led play reflects real life, teaches everything from social skills to numeracy, dexterity to emotional and physical balance. From our Early Years Handbook:

We provide simple, unformed natural play materials that nurture the child’s senses and stimulate creativity. Play materials and toys are intentionally unformed in order that a child’s imagination can transform one item into another.  This enables a free flow of imaginative games and play themes.  A large seaside shell can become a bowl, a boat or a telephone; a muslin cloth can act as a knight’s cloak, a bedcover or a roof for a house.  By contrast, ready formed toys can cause a child’s play to become stuck and repetitive; a highly detailed plastic lawn mower only serves one purpose, whereas a chair turned upside down may begin its ‘life’ as a lawn mower then become a car and finally end up as a shopping trolley.

This has been the case since the conception of Steiner’s methods:

‘What a difference there is between…playthings that leave as much as possible to the power of imagination and giving finished toys that leave nothing for the child’s own inner activity.  Rudolf Steiner. 

Steiner education strongly discourages screen time and other passive entertainment for children. Formal teaching in our settings does not begin until the year the children turn 7, an approach which has recently been the subject of much widespread academic and professional support.  Similarly, children in Seiner Waldorf setting do not have any formal testing throughout their education.

With these points in mind, it is therefore extremely interesting to read the following article, published in the journal ‘Pediatrics’ (official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the second highest-rated of 117 academic paediatrics journals). The article, ‘The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds‘ is authored by a committee of esteemed clinical paediatricians and concludes with guidance of what strategies a paediatrician should be promoting to parents. The points include:

  • Pediatricians can promote free play as a healthy, essential part of childhood. They should recommend that all children are afforded ample, unscheduled, independent, non-screen time to be creative, to reflect, and to decompress. They should emphasize that although parents can certainly monitor play for safety, a large proportion of play should be child driven rather than adult directed.

  • Pediatricians should emphasize the advantages of active play and discourage parents from the overuse of passive entertainment (eg, television and computer games).

  • Pediatricians should emphasize that active child-centered play is a time-tested way of producing healthy, fit young bodies.

  • Pediatricians should emphasize the benefits of “true toys” such as blocks and dolls, with which children use their imagination fully, over passive toys that require limited imagination.

  • Pediatricians can discuss that, although very well intentioned, arranging the finest opportunities for their children may not be parents’ best opportunity for influence and that shuttling their children between numerous activities may not be the best quality time. Children will be poised for success, basking in the knowledge that their parents absolutely and unconditionally love them. This love and attention is best demonstrated when parents serve as role models and family members make time to cherish one another: time to be together, to listen, and to talk, nothing more and nothing less. Pediatricians can remind parents that the most valuable and useful character traits that will prepare their children for success arise not from extracurricular or academic commitments but from a firm grounding in parental love, role modeling, and guidance.

The full article can be downloaded here: The Importance of Play

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