The Gift of Play

Play Math

When you ask me what I did in school today and I say, ‘I just played,’ please don’t misunderstand me. For you see, I am learning as I play. I am learning to enjoy and be successful in my work. Today I am a child and my work is play.” – Anita Wadley, 1974.

The word play, when used as a verb, means to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. However, when play is defined as a noun it means an activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation, especially by children. Either way you define it, to a child, it is just “play”.

So why is play important? Research says that appealing to children’s emotional states is necessary for effective learning. Emotion plays a vital role in how students learn. School needs to be fun, challenging, and motivating, and play is a good vehicle for learning. If kids feel like they are playing, their brains are relaxed and working effectively, and flexibility among brain regions to different concepts is important to math success. Furthermore, through play we can present children with something interesting and challenging for them to figure out, making it possible for children to judge their own success. It also allows all children to participate actively throughout the game or activity.

Play and learning can and do happen simultaneously; however, it is up to us, as adults, to provide the conditions and interactions which allow play to serve as a powerful pedagogical approach to promote learning. Recent work suggests that playful learning or discovery learning may offer strong pedagogies to parents and educators. Classroom teachers can look for ways play can permeate classrooms via the environment, opportunities provided, and the materials we choose to use. Inviting children to be active participants helps promote curiosity, and most importantly, allows children to experience pure delight.

Play, particularly mathematical play, is not a new concept. However, it has become a topic of importance. As we know, most early learning classrooms spend very little time on intentional mathematical instruction, thus I call on you to take action. What type of play do you enjoy? How will you promote play (mathematical) in your early learning classroom? As you look to the future, what are you looking forward to play with your child?

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