Professor Roger Hart talks about the importance of play for children's development. This is the same message we are hearing from many researchers and experts such as Sir Ken Robinson and Peter Gray
Sir Ken Robinson said, "Free play is the means by which children learn to make friends, overcome their fears, solve their own problems, and generally take control of their own lives. It is also the primary means by which children practice and acquire the physical and intellectual skills that are essential for success in their own culture." (Creative Schools,2015)
Play is something that is part of all cultures and cannot be considered a luxury but something that is essential to the development of children. Adults/teachers should be aware of the importance of play and create the conditions and environment necessary for children to deeply engage in play.
Peter Gray describes play as:
1. Play is self-chosen and self-directed; players are always free to quit.
2. Play is activity in which means are more valuable than ends.
3. Play in guided by mental rules.
4. Play is non-literal, imaginative, marked off in some way from reality.
In order for children to play with their own ideas we need to consider whether the environment invites curiosity and inquiry. When thinking about the environment it is not only the physical space but how we use time within the space. If we slice and dice children's days through following a teacher imposed roster then we run the risk hindering deep engagement. Children need time to deeply engage in their own ideas and thoughts. Creativity and playing with ideas cannot be time allocated - nor does it have an on/off switch that can be flicked to suit a time structured day. Children's play belongs to children, teachers should not inhibit children's play through insensitive planning or pursuit of teacher directed learning or by following programmes the see learning fragmented into curriculum areas or school readiness programs.
Tinkering with their own ideas inside play and inquiry allows children to solve their own problems, learn through the questions and hands on experimentation. Tinkering/playing with their own ideas supports children to think divergently. "Divergent thinking is the ability to branch out from a starting point and consider a variety of possible solutions, involves fluidity of thinking, broad scanning ability and free association. It is thought to be a major cognitive process underlying creativity." (Guildford, 1968; Russ & Cougars, 2001) When children have the opportunity to play with open-ended materials, there are numerous approaches that can be taken. As teachers we need to consider offering children open-ended experiences and remove the word activities from our vocabulary. Activities are usually closed and teachers often have an outcome in mind as well as a time frame. Whereas an experience or provocation allows for children to view this as a time to play with their own ideas inside the experience or provocation being offered. Teaching and learning becomes vibrant because both teacher and children may be delighted and surprised by where the experience goes.