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The Importance of Play

Photo by Paris Lopez on Unsplash

There are some fundamentals of education that most people have come to expect to be present in curricula across the world. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are known as the baseline to a “good” education so much so that parents and some educators offer such a careful, scrutinizing eye to these aspects of a child’s academic experience. Unfortunately this hyper-focus results in neglect to other, equally valuable aspects of education. In particular, educators and parents alike tend to devalue the importance of play. 

While play may look the same to adults, there are two categories of play adolescents engage in: free play and guided play.  

  • Free play is what happens when a group of girls break into an imaginary world where, for example, they are the mamas, have children, and must make sure the dog gets taken to the vet by ten o’clock tomorrow morning.  
  • Guided play is what happens when adults get involved and have an intended goal by which the play is directed.  

Both types of play are important and encourage pivotal academic advantages for children from the early years through middle school.  

Here are various ways in which the merit of play can increase academic experiences.  

  1. Play boosts creativity and confidence. This is an aspect of play that we’ve mentioned before but it bears repeating because it’s so very important for our children to become autonomous learners and thinkers, not merely parrots repeating facts. Play gives children the space to practice existing in a world of their own making where they are totally competent and capable to rule and problem solve when conflicts they create present obstacles. This self-assurance and ingenuity will show up as they move through their academic journey and face people and situations that might ordinarily feel overwhelming.  
  2. Play facilitates cognitive growth. That’s right, playing can help the growth and development of your child’s brain. It’s actually quite fascinating to watch children play. The scenarios that they create and the ways they navigate these realities reveal a great deal about just how much mental capacity our children are working with. And, as the play continues, the brilliance we see is growing and stretching. 
  3. Play positively impacts communication skills. Whether children are playing alone and thus talking to themselves or playing with other children, they are developing the skills to effectively communicate what is happening around them. This has implications for how children learn sequencing and ordering, a skill that helps them organize their thinking and engagement of academic material. More specifically, our children’s ability to order and sequence lends to math success.  

It is clear that play has value. So the next time your child asks for five extra minutes at the park or with their toys, know that you’re contributing to positive educational outcomes by allowing them to enjoy their play time.

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The Septima Clark Academy (SCA) is in Jackson, Mississippi, and serves Black girls in grades six through nine. Teachers and administrators provide academic curricula, enrichment programs, and experiences that serve the needs of scholars. For more information about SCA or to request an application, contact info@septimaclarkacademy.org

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