Children’s Play Hasn’t Changed

Head of Early Childhood, Kim Barnes, talks about the importance of big bold play.

I felt a tap on my shoulder early one morning as I was watching a group of children play King of the Hill on the burm on the Lower School playground. A tap on the shoulder and the hair on my arms stood up as I braced myself for a confrontation for a group of parents had been watching the play on the hill for a few days and I had been waiting for one of them to ask, “why are you allowing this play?” I turned to find a parent with a big smile standing just behind me; she simply wanted to comment that “the games children play haven’t changed much, have they?” This parent was correct and my heartbeat slowed down as here was a comrade who realized the importance of what the children were doing.

As my observation continued, the ebb and flow of natural laughter and, to be quite honest, squealing hung in the air. The boys and girls had their hands open, palms to the inside, revolving with one another in imaginary circles, big smiles, and bursts of exuberant, joyful laughter. Occasionally a child fell or slipped down the hill and there was always a hand or two to pull them back up into the melee of circling.

Swat and down went a child! Although the child jumped right up, the fall was a bit hard. He didn’t say anything to the other child and he was ready to return to his play. Another child had witnessed the fall and he made a point to both the boys that the hit was too hard as he demonstrated what motions and actions could take place so everyone would have a good time and would feel safe.

Before school begins each morning, the Lower School children are enjoying opportunities to participate in self- selected, big-body, bold play. The games and activities they feel they are creating (but we know better) are building muscle tone, upper body strength, lower body strength, agility and balance. Affective and intellectual learning is also taking place. Children learn to take turns and the give and take of physical games. These children are learning to “even the playing field” as they learn to judge how to make allowances for another child’s size and age and how to communicate these expectations. They are modeling appropriate play behaviors for one another as these behaviors become innate life skills. These children feel empathy for an “injured” party and learn to care for one another in a nurturing manner. No one is excluded – all are welcome and many come.

A watchful eye is always nearby. The urge to step in is always close to the edge. It takes great confidence in children to not intervene. Yet time and time again these wonderful little beings prove they know what to do and how to interact. If left to the devices of children, play hasn’t changed much over time nor has the craving and need for that big bold play. Sometimes it’s just a matter of trust.

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