When a child is engaged in play, their mind and brain is fully engaged, active and alert. A child’s mind is involved in creating, inventing, and self-initiating all activity when in play. Given these characteristics, play is really the highest and utmost of all levels of learning that we want to cultivate in our children.
Play is self-directed and initiated which creates independent and intrinsic learners. Children need opportunities to direct their own activities and learning. They need ample time to make mistakes and experiencing things falling apart in order to learn how to problem solve. Play is intrinsically motivated which correlates to how we wish for our children to learn, for the love of learning, rather than the outcome of only good grades.
Play is not a passive activity but involves active participation. It is a team sport of developing continual dialogue, interaction, problem solving, and negotiation. Children are learning how to make decisions. It involves creativity, invention and vision. They learn to use every day materials in new and useful way to invent something that will represent a mental image they hold in their minds. This skill is directly related to the same one that is needed for reasoning and working with abstract symbols.
As children experience an environment in which they are active participants, they become fully engaged and stimulated in what they are doing. Their brains are fully stimulated in so many levels and their language and thinking begin developing in more sophisticated and complex ways. Their sustained attention in engaging in what they are doing over time, again and again, naturally spills out to developing longer attention spans in other learning activities as well.
Children must plan, organize and sequence ideas and create problem solving scenarios in play situations. Higher level language, literacy and communication skills begin developing with repeated exposure to open ended play encounters with others. Children begin to learn that others have feeling and perspectives different from their own and this develops into higher social skills and understanding of how to navigate interpersonal relationships.
As children build from simple to more complex structures with blocks, they are learning early math skills of length, order, number, area, and weight. They are able to experiment with cause and effect, size and quantity when they discover new and creative ways to build structures, cities, or homes with blocks. They are learning higher level thinking skills of proportion and probability as they learn to use different shape and sized blocks to create a mental representation they hold in their minds.