The benefits of play in early childhood are well documented but for older children, it’s time to hit the books right?
Being free to tinker, tamper, wonder, manipulate, explore, experiment and try ideas, fail, reflect, try another idea or try again, succeed, discover, or move on to new experiences is valuable at any age.
Play is a process of working with your thoughts, trying them out. Practising your skills. Refining them. Practising your understandings. Deepening them. Without this process, there would be no art, no cures for disease, no sporting achievements, no architecture, no design, no robotics or computers, no great culinary delights.
Why would we hit the brakes on play once a child turns five?
My children haven’t suddenly lost interest in exploring things now that they’re past “double numbers”. I hope they never do.
My children haven’t suddenly lost the desire to make their own decisions about what they will do, and how they will solve problems, like they do in play. I hope they never will.
Play is how children learn.
I would argue that play is how people learn. At any age.
Play is valuable. It is not just the domain of the very young. It sets the scene for a life of learning.
Do I want my children to forget play, now that they are past early childhood age? No. A good relationship with the processes of play is something they will need for life.
There is no ‘magical age’ at which we don’t need play.
At school, my children weren’t allowed to refine their skills and understandings through self driven activities. They couldn’t explore their ‘what if’ questions, that they had formed in wonder. They had to put their wonder and interests aside to do worksheets, or some other prescribed activity that someone else told them to do, for someone else’s agenda.
Children learn through repetition. When children are continuously forced to ignore their interests and their natural activities, pretty soon the interests stop. Their desire to learn stops.
My children’s inner drive was dulled at school. Their intrinsic lights were turned off.
Now that they are school free and free to play, those lights have come back on. They learn through repeating the activities that they are drawn to, and refining the thinking and skills that those activities compel them into.
That is the importance of older children engaging in play. It continues their habit of lifelong learning. It keeps them interested and engaged. Continuous learning is a mindset, a way of life, that begins with wonder and play.
Play is the place where cognition and action meet.
Where instincts are followed.
When older children play, the stuff they play with may be different.
The things they make may be different.
The plans they form may be different.
Sometimes, the activities they choose to explore through play may have names.
Sometimes play is a project.
Sometimes play looks like a quiet walk or muse.
Sometimes play is a computer game, or creation, or begins with looking up ideas online.
Sometimes play is writing a story, or playing with words.
Sometimes play is maths or design.
Play can be messy.
Sometimes it has no outcomes.
Sometimes it has outcomes that the player sets for him or herself.
Sometimes, the results can be gold.