The Value of Play in Early Childhood
Aug 13, 2015
In our chaotic, hurried, often frenzied world we must ask, “Are we taking a toll on childhood?” Like a tender little plant in the garden, the young child needs time to grow and develop at their own natural pace. Instead, the traditional kindergarten has disappeared and in its place is a mostly first grade class for five-year olds. The word kindergarten translates as “child’s garden” which implies a place of beauty, growth, warmth, and unhurried development, not academic expectation and requirements of conformity to learning processes.
There is no sound scientific research to prove that early academics gives children a leg up later on in school, yet the pressure is on to see how early intellectual development can be pushed down on our young children.
The years of childhood from birth to the change of teeth are critical for the development of a healthy physical body, without which strong intellectual development cannot take place. Children need to run, jump, skip, roll, climb, twist and turn. Sometimes they just need the time to sit, watch nature, and dream. Children need a dependable rhythm in the day—a time to eat, a time to sleep, a time to play and a time to rest. They need the space and the uninterrupted time to engage in self-initiated pretend play. Children flourish when a nurturing adult is there to provide this space and uninterrupted time for play. They are nourished by stories that are told, verses that are recited and songs that are sung. Life habits are instilled when children can help prepare a snack, help put away the toys and learn to put on their clothes and tie their own shoes.
This is what our Lorien kindergartens and preschool class provide. We know that to divert the child’s life forces from growing and shaping the physical organs to intellectual learning depletes those life forces in such a way that the child is weakened. Furthermore, when children do not have the opportunity to initiate their own pretend play, the capacity for the development of the imagination is diminished. Imagination is the bedrock of higher-level thinking and scientific research is now showing that children’s play is the most important way to develop it.
Steiner education is unparalleled in its ability to preserve and nourish the life forces of childhood, not only for the kindergarten years, but for the primary years as well. We know that children cannot be expected to do mental work continuously without the refreshing break of recess and without the harmonising effects of the arts on a daily basis.
The curriculum provides a wholesome antidote to mass-culture influences that speed children into adolescence without regard to their effect. Classical stories and legends from ancient times and biographies of historical individuals portray heroes and heroines who are truly worthy of emulation. When these stories and biographies are introduced by a teacher, the impact on young lives is noteworthy.
Parents today are more conscious than ever regarding the raising of children. Some complain of the lack of recess and the emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing that is driving mainstream education and they agonize over the fact that their children do not even want to go to school. Rudolf Steiner gave indications for an education pertinent for the times in which we live. He foresaw what the advance of materialism and technology would bring if human beings were unable to think, to feel, and to act with purpose for the well-being of the world.
Steiner schools stand out as havens and protectors of childhood so that young people will have the vital foundation they need for a true life education and the unfolding of the human spirit.
The imaginative pictures that the young children build in their minds is a foundation for greater thinking capacity in later life.
Einstein, it was said, spent his time as a young student, gazing out the window, dreaming. Teachers found him ‘unteachable’.
All children need the space and time to gaze out the window, building the imaginative pictures in their minds and not filling their minds with rapidly changing TV images or darting computer games which disallow the contemplative capacities of the mind to develop.
(This is an article which I have built out of another article from Waldorf Education).