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Topic: Position Statement: Childhood - A Time for Play!
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Position Statement: Childhood - A Time for Play!
Posted: Aug 27, 2014 7:13 PM
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From the National Kindergarten Alliance [NKA] website at . You can download NKA position
papers at Here is some
information about the NKA: The NKA is the ONLY national, non-profit
organization dedicated specifically to the needs of kindergarten
students and teachers. Members strive to establish, nurture and
support the highest quality education for our youngest learners
through the identification of appropriate practices based on
comprehensive research. Currently the National Kindergarten Alliance
membership includes professional organizations from AL, AZ, CA, CO,
FL, IL, MN, ND, NH, OR, SC, and TX. as well as individual members in
twenty nine additional states and Puerto Rico. This represents
thousands of kindergarten and early childhood educators and
administrators! Go to the website for curriculum ideas, position
papers, other information and a membership form.
Childhood: A Time for Play!

PLAY is an integral part of the learning process -- The National
Kindergarten Alliance
For the purposes of this paper play does not refer to organized
teacher-directed sports, scripted activities, theatre, nor electronic

Play is one of the most significant means by which children learn.
Through spontaneous activity they create roles that emulate adult
behavior children think, create, imagine, communicate, make choices,
solve problems, take risks, build physical skills and take on a
variety of roles as they interact socially. Play is intrinsically
motivating and offers children the freedom to explore an activity
unfettered by adult parameters of measured outcomes, testing and

Play supports learning, promotes language and social
development and enhances creativity in children and adults. Children
who learn healthy play skills feel capable, have successes, make
friends and learn nonviolent ways to interact with others.

Playing is fundamental to how children learn. If our society is to be
serious about preparing our youth for their eventual roles in the
increasingly complex adult world, then education needs to be serious
about making sure that our children PLAY -- Ronald Mah

According to the survey of the National Kindergarten Alliance
(2002-2004), early childhood educators across the nation are
concerned that the pressures of academic requirements and formal
assessments are crowding out children's play in school. From the
thousands of responses NKA received, it is evident that active
learning experiences through play are being replaced by scripted
lessons and structured academics. Play, particularly in preschool and
kindergarten, needs to be an integral part of the educational
process. Children learn more efficiently and effectively through play
than one can imagine.

The first seven years is a sacrosanct period for leaving the child
alone and allowing him or her to "just play." The period from four to
seven years of age is the time in which children develop a
metaphoric, symbolic language structure upon which later operational
and creative thinking is based; that early academic training disrupts
the development of this language structure -- Joseph Chilton Pearce

Given time and open-ended materials in a safe, supportive
environment, play allows children to explore their world and discover
their unique place in that world. In the school setting teachers and
administrators should be obligated to provide time each day for both
outdoor and indoor play.

Rationale for Play

Neurological. A newborn brain is made up of 100 billion neurons
making about 1,000 trillion connections. (Wolfe, 2001) Children
investigate their environment through their physical senses. The
neurons are stimulated, integrated and connected across the
hemispheres of the brain through a network of dendrites. Scientific
studies of the brain have shown that essential neurological pathways
occur in an environment free of stress, fatigue, and anxiety.

Informal play settings allow children to practice language skills
involving vocabulary, syntax and grammar. English language learners
particularly benefit from language exchanges during play. These
language skills later assist with reading, writing and math

All the processes involved in play such as repeating actions, making
connections, extending skills, combining materials and taking risks
provide the essential electrical impulses to help make connections
and interconnections between neural networks, thus extending
children's capabilities as learners, thinkers and communicators.

Play integrates the brain's regulatory systems and contributes to the
unity of mind and personality through the development of self-systems
(self-esteems, self-worth, self-image and self-competence) --
Elizabeth Wood and Jane Attfield

Physical. Play is an integral part of the growth of a healthy child.
It fosters opportunities to develop large and small motor skills as
well as coordination, balance and muscle tone. Active movement
provides an outlet for children to release energy and challenges
their developing physical bodies. The ancient Greeks recognized the
value of play in the developmental and growth period of childhood.
Experts in today's world of education also believe that play is

Social. Educators know children learn best in situations that are
non-threatening, flexible and fun. Self-selected play joins children
of like interests in situations where they can engage in
self-directed conversations.

Creating opportunities for play can lower stress and help prevent
violence by offering safe and acceptable situations for interaction.
In the early childhood classroom most students engage in
age-appropriate conversation with their peers. Shared interests
encourage them to pay attention to others, ask questions, offer help,
make suggestions and provide feedback.

Making friends is a skill that is difficult to learn after childhood
-- Lawrence E. Shapiro

Early friendships and relationships lay the groundwork for developing
lifelong skills for building healthy social connections among
families, on the athletic field and in the workplace and the

Intellectual. Children benefit greatly when they are
engaged in interactive play and are free to share their knowledge
with other children. Curriculum is more effective when presented with
materials that are open-ended can be easily manipulated. Through
spontaneous and creative play with a minimum of teacher intervention
children are free to grow and manifest their understanding of

Through play children categorize and generalize new experiences, test
and revise conceptual understanding, solve problems, engage in mental
planning, think symbolically and test hypotheses -- Jaclyn L.
Cooper and Martha Taylor Devers

Emotional. During play children are able to control situations that
are not theirs in the real world. By exploring possibilities in play
situations children display confidence and competence as they plan
and make decisions. Play provides a place where children can act out
feelings about difficult emotional events they may face.

Adults reflect through discussion, literature, writing and
meditation. Children reflect through concretely acting out past
experiences or preparing for them -- Bruce, Hodder and Stoughton

Vygotsky believed that children involved in imaginative play will
renounce what they want, and willingly subordinate themselves to
rules in order to gain the pleasure of the play. He argues that in
play they exercise their greatest self-control. ln a Vygotskian
model, if we accept the distinction between 'play as such' and 'play
in schools' we can see that in order for play to be valued it needs
to be located securely within the curriculum structure and
organizational framework. Clarifying the role of adults in this
process is, therefore, essential -- Elizabeth Wood and Jane Attfield

The Role of the Teacher

The teacher plays a vital role in the unfolding of human intelligence
for every child in the classroom. The teacher should be an active
observer and assessor of children as they interact with the
environment in which they are playing and with their peers. It is of
paramount importance for teachers to

. Be aware of current research and resources that validate the
essential nature and importance of play,
. Designate a consistent time and space for creative and imaginative play,
. Provide open-ended play materials,
. Structure activities to facilitate children's social, emotional,
physical and intellectual development,
. Withhold judgment of nonstandard answers or interpretations by
the students.

To this end the teacher provides guidance and stimulates play that is
healthy and educational in nature.

True Authentic Assessment

Observing play is a teacher's first level of assessment. It is the
teacher's responsibility to be an active observer and assess
children's interactions with the environment and with peers. The
information the teacher collects can provide important data to be
used for enrichment, remediation, and/or for sharing with parents.

Stages of Play

Play is spontaneous, observable, solitary or parallel, associative,
symbolic, and cooperative. Positive unrestricted play can be a joyous
activity that reaps many rewards.

Children generally play by building on their previous experiences.
They may engage in any of the different types of play at any time.

When children are in a healthy environment, they progress through
each stage at their own level of development.

. Unoccupied Play. Children learn by observing others without interaction.
. Onlookers. Children focus intently on watching others
play. They may engage in conversation but do not otherwise participate.
. Solitary or independent play. Children play by themselves with no
interest in what others are doing even
if they are physically close.
. Parallel play. Children play alongside others with similar objects
such as blocks; however, they do not play with each other but side by
side separately.
. Associative play. Children engage in the same play
activity without an organized goal. They may share blocks or tools
but do not build the same structure.
. Cooperative Play. Children are organized, have a specific goal and
have a sense of belonging to a group. It is the beginning of teamwork
and doing projects where they work or play together.


State standards describe what young children should know and learn. A
strong play-based program can help children develop knowledge and
skills. Keeping play as an integral part of the early education
program is important not only to the children but to society as a

Educators should inform parents administrators and other decision
makers of the value of non-structured play in support of healthy
child development.

The school play environment can have a tremendous impact upon the
education of children. As some new schools are built with minimal
playgrounds, what may appear to be wise budget decisions may actually
rob children of vital opportunities to engage in non-structured
social situations.

Academic pressure has caused blocks, easels, and even dramatic play
areas to be left unused or be totally eliminated in many classrooms.
However, it is through make believe that children are able to
manipulate their environment and create imaginary places of their
own. In the real world adults control the experiences of children. In
the children's world of play a stick becomes a horse, dolls become
students in a classroom, and blocks become ships at sea or airplanes
roaring through the sky.

To support emergent literacy it is appropriate that the play
environment include literary objects, e.g. typewriter or computer,
cash registers, notepaper, markers, pencils, telephones, coins,
mailboxes, classroom and library books. These materials spark
children's imaginations and prompt a variety of responses to enrich
their play experiences.

There's no formula to ensure that children become happy and
accomplished adults. But it seems clear that even as technology
proliferates, simple unstructured play should be a priority,
enriching children and their imaginations for the rest of their lives
-- ClaudiKalb

Just Playing

When I'm building the block room, please don't say I'm "just
playing," for you see, I'm learning as I play about balance and

When I'm getting all dressed up, setting the table, caring for the
babies, don't get the idea I'm "just playing," for your see, I'm
learning as I play. I may be a mother or father someday.

When you see me up to my elbows in paint, or standing at an easel, or
molding and shaping clay, please don't let me hear you say "He's
just playing," for your see, I'm learning as I play. I'm expressing
myself and being creative. I may be an artist or an inventor someday.

When you see me sitting in a chair "reading"to" an imaginary
audience, please don't laugh and think I'm "just playing." You see,
I'm learning as I play. I may be a teacher someday.

When you see me combing the bushes for bugs, or packing my pockets
with choice things I find, don't pass it off as "just play," for you
see, I'm learning as I play. I may be a scientist someday.

When you see me engrossed in a puzzle or some "plaything" at my
school, please don't feel the time is wasted in "play," for you see,
I'm learning as I play. I'm learning to solve problems and
concentrate. I may be in business some day.

When you see me cooking or tasting foods, please don't think because
I enjoy it, "it's just play. I'm learning to follow directions and
see differences. I may be a chef someday.

When you see me learning to skip, hop, run and move my body, please
don't say I'm "just playing. I'm learning to how my body works. I may
be a doctor, nurse or athlete someday.

When you ask me what I've done at school today, and I say,"I've just
played" Please don't misunderstand, for you see, I'm learning as I
play. I'm learning to enjoy and be successful in my work. I'm
preparing for tomorrow. Today, I am a child, and my work is play.

Anita Wadley
Gateways to Learning
Edmunton, Oklahoma


Bruce, Hodder and Stoughton, Early Childhood
Education. p. 17 London, 1995

Cooper, Jaclyn L., Devers, Taylor, Martha, Young
Children, May, 2001

Hannaford, Carla, Ph.D., Smart Moves-Why Learning Is
Not All in Your Head. Great Ocean Publishers, Arlington,
VA, 1995

Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff, Einstein Never Used
Flashcards. Rodale, 2003

HoIliday, Jennifer, Teaching Tolerance, Fall, 2004

Jenkinson, Sally, The Genius of Play, Hawthorne Press:
Gloucestershire, UK, 2002

Johnson, Susan R., MD, Strangers in Our Homes: TV
and Our Children's Minds, May, 1999

Jones, Elizabeth, Playing is My Job. Trust for Educational
Leadership, Partnership Project Between Pacific Oaks College and the
Pasadena USD, Oct, 1990

Kalb, Claudia (with Joan Raymond), Troubled Souls,
Newsweek, Sept. 8, 2003

Koralek, Derry, Editor, Spotlight Children and Play,
National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2004

Mah, Ronald, Articulating Play and Other Development
Energies, Take 5, California Kindergarten Association, 2002

Nourot, P. and Van Hoorn, J. Symbolic Play in Preschool and Primary
Settings. Young Children, September, 1991

Pearce, Joseph Chilton, Magical Child. A Plume Book,
Child Psychology, ISBN 0-452-26789, 1992

Shapiro, Lawrence, Ph.D., How to Raise a Child With
a High EQ, Harper Perennial, l998

Wolfe, Pat, The Brain Matters, Translating the Research to Classroom
Practices, ASCD, Alexandria, VA, 2001

Wood, Elizabeth and Attfield, Jane, Play Learning and
the Early Childhood Curriculum, Paul Chapman Publishing, London, 1996
National Kindergarten Alliance Website --


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