I mentioned in my first post on the importance of play that while children's play is critical to optimal child development, increasingly children are being raised in such a hurried and pressured world that their development is being impeded. Major child rearing agencies, early childhood associations, paediatric groups, and government agencies with responsibility for children and families, have been raising serious questions about declining spare time, and in particular unstructured playtime for young children.
"In their play, children invent the world for themselves and create a place for themselves in it. They are re-creating their pasts and imagining their futures, while grounding themselves in the reality and fantasy of their lives here-and-now." (Jones and Reynolds, 1992, p. 129)
Play enables children to use their creativity while developing cognitively, emotionally and socially. It also encourages imagination, fine and gross motor skills, decision-making, problem solving and so on.
But what role do adults fill in relation to play. Elizabeth Jones in a useful article titled, The Play's the Thing: Styles of Playfulness, suggests that adults signal very clearly to children what their priorities are and can quickly take control away from children. She has many points to make about play but three are worth sharing here:
1. Children benefit from play with adults, and there are advantages in the experience of play situations with varied adults.
"As teachers or parents, we are never neutral; by what we choose to acknowledge and participate in, we are communicating to children what we think is important. Fortunately, adults have diverse interests, and children learn different things from the different people in their lives."
2. Adults need to be careful not to exercise to much control over play, otherwise it ceases to be play.
"It is important, however, that children learn that they are competent people with good ideas. They can be denied this right by adults whose need to play a starring role leads them to ignore the fact that play is the children's turf, which needs to be entered with care. Adults itching to play teacher are likely to interrupt children's play for the sake of their own wonderful ideas. Play is children's world, and adults who take it over are denying children's need to invent it for themselves. Yet children benefit from adults' ideas, and adults benefit from being free to do things they like to do."
3. Adults can enjoy play too and learn how to engage with children and learn about children as they too enter into shared play situations.
"Adults can learn to share their own playfulness with children without overwhelming them or performing for them, if they stay aware of children's developmental levels, children's interests, and what's playful for children."
I have built on this post recently and my first post on play with a third post that explores how adults can engage in play situations with their children, The Importance of Play - Part 3.