By Sam Piha
There is an inscription over a public school in northern Washington state that reads “Waste Not Thy Hour”. It reminds me of how young people’s play is often regarded as a waste. For many, play is the antithesis of learning time, however, there is growing evidence that there is a great deal of learning in play.
In an age of standardized testing and intense academic competition, it’s easy to believe that play is one more thing American children will have to do without. But free play encourages the development of the two skills that no robot can replace: creativity and teamwork. -The Secret Power of Play; Bethan Mooney for TIME (1)
Now is the time to reexamine the value of play, educate our stakeholders, and be unashamed to make play an important part of our afterschool programs. In this post we open the door to this reexamination by offering some information and definitions of terms you may find as you read about play. In a later blog post on play, we offer some additional information and resources to encourage a reexamination of play.
Many afterschool programs prioritize an extension of academics and homework completion over organized play, free play, and physical activity. - The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds (2)
The Move AWAY From Play
Over the years, there has been a pronounced reduction in the time that children spend in play. According to the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health (3), this is due to several factors:
There are many terms that one encounters when exploring the issues of play. Below are some definitions that may be helpful.
Characteristics of play (4)
Unstructured play is open-ended play that has no specific learning objective. Unstructured play is often informally referred to as simply "letting kids be kids" or "just play." At times, you may also hear it called "free play" or “self-play."(5)
Unstructured play doesn't usually have any rules or instructions, and the possibilities tend to be unlimited! (6)
Free play is unstructured, voluntary, child-initiated activity that allows children to develop their imaginations while exploring and experiencing the world around them. It is the spontaneous play that comes naturally from children's natural curiosity, love of discovery, and enthusiasm. (7)
Structured play is any type of activity that has a set of rules or instructions with a goal. For example, most games, puzzles, construction toys and organized sports are structured activities (8)
Organized play is ordered, overseen by rules, and managed or directed by another person. (9)
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.