Play is critical for children
“Play is essential to education. Play is education for children.”
– Ray, D., Center for Play Therapy at the University of North Texas College of Education
The presence or absence of play, particularly in child development, has a great deal to do with competency, resiliency, emotional health and brain size. Play is “not frivolous and not just for kids, but something that is an inherent part of human nature.”
– National Institute for Play
Many researchers have found play is a natural and critical part of child development. The parts of the brain that are most developed in the early years are the ones that respond to active experiences, the brain is structured to learn from experience first, and then learn through all the other means that we usually use to teach. Research shows that when mammals play, their brains are activated in a way that can change neuron connections in the prefrontal cortex, which impact emotional regulation and problem-solving. Play can also release chemicals in the brain, including oxytocin which helps regulate emotions and supports social skills and dopamine, a neurotransmitter that impacts memory, motivation, attention and mood.
How to create a playful classroom
It takes careful planning and thought to design environments and experiences that allow children to reap the benefits of play. Supporting the most beneficial play activities and processes for all student learners is an important component in this work. Students from various cultures and communities may not find play a comfortable or intuitive process in learning. Students who are introverted, survivors of trauma, or with different learning needs may also struggle with some of the more unstructured approaches to playful learning. Not all teachers are comfortable creating classroom environments that may be very different from their own schooling experiences or education. There are many challenges and barriers in this complicated work of play!
The Side x Side team of teachers and teaching artists have designed lesson plans and resources that support play and play-based strategies through standards based arts integration practices. We invite you to use the Side x Side resources and begin building a classroom of play, creativity and engagement for all students.
- National Institute for Play
- Scientists Say Child's Play Helps Build A Better Brain
article by Jon Hamilton from NPR's Morning Edition, Aug. 6, 2014
- Why We Play
article from the National Institute of Play
- Side x Side Program Overview
About the Lesson Plans and Arts Based Content
- Side x Side Teacher Resources: Learning Through Physical Theater
- Side x Side Teacher Resources: Improvisation Tools for Building Classroom Confidence