Balanced Play: How It Makes Kids’ Lives Better
What Is Play?
Play is different for every age group. For an adult, play my be building or making something, like Joann from “Fixer Upper” decorates the houses her and her husband fix up. While for others, it may be participating in marathons. For children, play maybe taking all the pots and pans out of the cabinet like my daughter did when she was younger. While it may be play for her, it wasn’t so much for mommy and daddy. LOL! The challenge is defining play. Play can be almost anything as long as it fulfills certain characteristics. The authors of Play for a Change define play as, “what children and young people do when they follow their own ideas, in their own way and for their own reasons” (2008, 10).
Why Is Play Valuable?
Play is not limited to just humans. Go to a zoo or watch animals on a TV show and you will see them using things in their surroundings for play. I remember watching a gorilla at Animal Kingdom with my daughter playing with her food bucket. She would roll it around, place it on her head, and play peekaboo with us watching her. This was her form of play. Another gorilla in the area was picking leaves off of a tree and making things with them. This was their form of play. Play benefits us in many ways by shaping our brain. It helps us to be flexible, resilient, and allows us the ability to deal with complex situations. It allows helps develop stress-response. Think of children building a block tower together. They are working hard putting the pieces in the right spot. Their brain is learning to take risks. If they place a block in a certain place, will the tower fall over? Sometimes it does and they have to start all over. Or another students places a block in a different spot than they wanted it to be place? This is helping them with resilience and building their ability to adapt. As you can see, play is very valuable in helping children develop their minds. Children need to be able to play. We need to provide them with balanced play just as we do with balanced literacy.
Kinds of Play
There are many different kinds of play to be incorporated into balanced play for children. They are fantasy play, constructive play, games with rules, and rough-and-tumble play. Each one helps to enhance a child’s development.
Fantasy play is when children choose an imaginary scenario in which they act out roles and determine a set of rules for the roles. This is usually done when children play store. They assign different roles: cashier, shopper, stock person, etc. Each person has their own role and they determine the rules for each role. The stock person or cashier isn’t going to be the one buying the items. The same could be said for my students who loved to play kitchen during inside recess time. Several of them would be the cooks, while others would be the waiters/waitresses and customers. They would create menus and even write down orders on paper before serving the customers. Sometimes if they didn’t have an item they wanted, they would substitute another item for it. For example, one of my students used a block as a phone for taking take-out orders. This helped her develop her abstract thinking.
Constructive play is an organized form of play that is goal/product oriented. Children use materials to create something. Most constructive play uses materials like blocks, playdough, art materials, and recycled materials. Children can use these materials in a variety of ways to meet standards. For instance, children can use the materials to make murals or costumes for characters to retell a story. By using straws, paper, beads, and other materials, children can create something, examining, exploring, sorting, and arranging the materials. This taps into the STEM/STEAM mindset. By incorporating this type of play, we are allowing them to problem solve, connect, deepen their understanding, an replicate their learning while keeping math, science, and engineering in the classroom.
Games with Rules
Games with rules helps children build important social skills such as cooperation. Think of your students playing hide and seek. Now think of them playing hide and seek, where the seeker isn’t covering their eyes. What would happen? For certain type of play, there are rules that need to be followed in order for the game to work. By allowing for this type of play, they are learning to communicate and develop healthy competition. They are understanding what it means to win and how it feels to lose. This is an essential part of building empathy. This type of play also helps them to develop their growth mindset by teaching them to learn and grow in a risk free environment for failure.
Rough-and-tumble play is often known as play fighting or horseplay. We most commonly see this type of play on the playground. We see it in the form of running and chasing each other, playing tag, wrestling, and having sword fights. We often discourage this type of play because we often think that they will take it to far. This type of play is often controversial, but it is yet very critical to the development of children. Roughhousing is necessary to help social and cognitive development as well as physical development. According to Stuart Brown (2010), a “lack of experience with rough-and-tumble play hampers the normal give-and-take necessary for social mastery, and has been linked to poor control of violent impulses later in life” (89). When children engage in play fighting, they learn what it means to take it too far and build the rationale that their friends won’t want to play with them anymore. We do have to monitor this as teachers to help them determine when they have taken it too far at times.
Stages of Play
When children are playing, there are different stages in which children fall into based on their development of play. There are six stages of play:
-Unoccupied Behavior: Children will randomly observe anything that catches their interest. If nothing catches their interest, they will often fidget, spin in circles, or bang hands of table. This is the most immature form of play.
-Onlooker Behavior: This child chooses to observe others at play and will often ask them questions about their play but doesn’t play herself.
-Solitary Play: This child chooses to play alone. The child might play near another group, but will not join them.
-Parallel Play: This child will choose to play with the same materials alongside another child, but will create or build their own thing.
-Associative Play: Children who choose to play together in a group using the same materials or even play the same activity. For example, children may be playing with the blocks, but each one if building their own building to make a city.
-Cooperative Play: Children plan how they will play. They discuss and negotiate their roles. This is the most mature form of play.
3 Take Aways
1. Each form of play has its benefits.
2. During play, children are learning to create, innovate, explore, and develop.
3. Rough-and-tumble play shouldn’t be discouraged and it is essential for them to build the rationale of “taking things too far”.
What are your 3 take aways?
Don’t forget to join me on my book study on play by reading Purposeful Play. Find it HERE.