• Early Childhood Education

    Why Creative Play Matters

    Dr. Donna Housman       

    I just read an interesting piece in The Atlantic that stressed the importance of creative play. The article includes an interview with psychology professor and writer Alison Gopnik about her latest book The Gardener and the Carpenter that argues that parents should encourage their children’s natural inclination to learn through play.

    In the interview, Gopnik notes that creativity and innovation come out of play and free exploration, and that such a foundation is critical for future success. And yet, the reality in today’s world is that children are getting less and less time to play as more emphasis is placed on academic performance that often goes beyond the child’s development level and cognitive abilities.

    Play holds a vital role in early childhood. Play is a child’s “work” and helps develop the foundation for social, emotional, and cognitive skills. Through creative play, children become independent in learning the powerful lesson of pursuing their own ideas to a successful conclusion. Play also allows children to internalize important concepts and act out real life in an active, enjoyable, flexible manner that focuses on the process of learning, not the product. It strengthens cognitive connections and allows children to think symbolically. Most importantly, it helps children experience, manage, and deal with often strong emotions that accompany imaginative play.

    In the longer view, research directly links play to children’s ability to master such academic content as literacy and numeracy, as well as contributing to advances in vocabulary, language comprehension, attention span, concentration, problem-solving strategies and group participation.

    It is heartening to see writers like Gopnik give voice to this important issue.