While it won’t make its way onto standardized tests or college entrance exams, movement is an important aspect of how children learn. Your childcare center has the important opportunity to help lay the foundation for later academic achievement by giving the children in your care opportunities to play, build, and create. While those kinds of activities might seem simply like ways to fill up the hours, they’re actually helping children develop important skills in developmentally appropriate ways.
Importance of Imaginative Play
When we put the screens and our own agendas aside and reserve time for child-directed play, it may feel risky. After all, we never know what they’ll come up with! Sure, we need to make sure they stay safe, but beyond that, childcare workers do best to allow space in the schedule for children to exercise freedom in making their own fun. While preschoolers can’t yet write stories, they are flexing the very muscle which writers use when they create narratives through play. Stories they act out with other children or toys involve skills like developing characters, sequencing events, and displaying empathy toward others.
Variations of Imaginative Play
The means a child uses to create a narrative isn’t the important part. Children can role play with other children or use puppets, dolls, or action figures. When they can’t find just the right item to further their purposes, though, they flex some added creative muscles by using materials readily available and transforming them into something else.
Maker Extensions for Imaginative Play
When a child uses a cardboard box to create a make-shift castle instead of using a pre-fabricated one, the constant shift between roleplaying and tinkering, thinking and doing, further serve to strengthen mental processes. You can encourage this kind of creative play with books like Not a Box and cardboard construction kits like the ones from this company.
More effective than hearing how-to instructions for a prepared craft and sitting at a table to complete it, children who are engaging in self-directed imaginative play will create based on a need or desire. This kind of movement, combined with self-directed thinking and creativity, is precisely what children need the freedom to do.
Alternatives to Self-Directed Play
In place of self-directed, imaginative play, many American early-childhood learning experiences miss the boat when it comes to providing children with the kinds of experiences they need. Instead, even toddler and preschool-aged children are increasingly found sitting at pint-sized tables, expected to complete worksheets. The lack of physical movement is seen as positive, but this kind of passive learning environment is actually unhealthy for young children. Kids love doing activities that they themselves chose, though in most contemporary childcare settings they typically spend measurably more time in a passive learning environment.