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You've Got to Play Just to Make it Today

Monday, October 12, 2015

Students at play.

Please enjoy this guest blog post written by Margaret Piskitel, our Early Childhood Program Director.

Nothing frustrates me more about a grown-up’s view of young children than the phrases, “They’re just playing,” and “Are they going to be challenged enough if they’re playing all day?” As parents, we all want the best for our children. We want them to learn everything they need in order to grow into successful, happy adults. Research, both new and old, reveals that children’s play builds a foundation for future learning. 

Recent research using MRI brain scans shows that pretend play develops the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that enables and controls executive functioning skills.* In particular, birth to age seven is a vital time in the development of the prefrontal cortex. Growth in this area of the brain occurs mainly during this seven year period.

In her book Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky highlights the seven skills our children need to be successful, all of which are executive functioning skills: focus and self-control, perspective taking, communication, making connections, critical thinking, taking on challenges, and being a self-directed, engaged learner. As children play, particularly in these first seven years of life, they build these executive functioning skills, learning what it means to be part of a group, to live in a community and how to be good citizens of the world. In addition, play helps the brain form the neurological connections that assist young children in making meaning of the world. Plenty of time for play also leads to increased language, communication, creativity, and ability to delay gratification.

People are often surprised to hear that good play is actually structured. Our teachers encourage students to plan their play, make choices, and more. They set up inviting provocations and purposeful play activities with attached learning goals. They continually change, combine, and add new and more complex materials both indoors and on the playground, allowing each child to enter an activity at his or her own level, so students develop skills they need. When our early childhood teachers plan for each day, week, month and year, they take time to observe and record the behavior of their students so they can thoughtfully respond to students as they explore, discover, and build theories and understanding of the world in everything they do.

In order to nurture your kids’ brain development during this important time, we’ve made a conscious decision to celebrate play—as opposed to making preschool or transitional kindergarten curriculum feel more like kindergarten or first grade curriculum, or using more “sit and listen” techniques to teach kids. Educators of all levels will tell you that strong executive functioning skills are essential in today’s world. So, in the adapted words of MC Hammer, “You’ve got to PLAY just to make it today ...” and CDS is just the place to do it!

References and Further Reading: