Over the years what we as educators have observed is that children’s play allows them to explore, identify, negotiate, take risks and create meaning. It helps them to scope out situations they might find themselves in and discover how to respond to them. As children have a natural ability to jump back and forth from ‘fantasy’ and ‘reality’, it allows them to grow their self-confidence and emotional intelligence in response to real-life situations with a lack of self-consciousness that we, adults, admire, because we have lost that ability ourselves.
Traditional educational environments still place clear labels on what is ‘play’ and what is ‘work’ with distinct differentiators between the two. This has placed limits on the amount of time children spend at play vs ‘working’. In this context, ‘work’ is defined as controlled time spent on a chair at a table carrying out a systematic task, while ‘play’ is break time in between work time – a time where learning does not take place.
Progressive educational environments, by contrast, view ‘ guided play’ as an integral part of ‘work’ based on decades of research showing that the action of learning through play, interaction, collaboration and problem solving has been documented to maximize intellectual and cognitive growth.
In fact, children who engage in quality play experiences are more likely to have well-developed memory skills and language development, and are able to regulate their behavior, leading to enhanced school adjustment and academic learning.
In recent years research has also proven that guided play has a critical role in the development of critical thinking skills and emotional intelligence that increase the capacity for decision making. Play-based learning allows children to figure things out on their own, to solve problems, to face challenges, to understand their feelings and to gain the confidence to work through difficulties with their peers.
Educational curriculums based on a more contemporary and progressive US education model, which has been championed by both New York-based Bank Street School of Education and Clarion School Dubai, enables us to direct learning to allow young students to gain the maximum benefits out of education. Therefore, as adults and teachers understanding the benefits of guided play and the impact of play on learning
To do that effectively, we need to develop a personalized teaching approach, helping each child gain educational knowledge and skills through and develop their learning from each experience, guided by a rigorous educational curriculum.
As educators, we have a responsibility to understand and apply this process in the classroom to provide children with meaningful experiences through play, encouraging them to express their creativity to master the reality around them. It is encouraging that some schools in Dubai, such as Clarion school, have started applying this methodology.
Ultimately, I believe it’s an approach that would serve us well, as parents as well, in our interactions with our children. After all, we are all educators, each in our own way, aren’t we?
Kimberly Taylor, Educator Bank Street College of Education