After the morning meeting, students sit anxiously on the rug waiting for the teacher to call their name out so they can pick what center they are going to play at. The first student jumps up with enthusiasm and call outs “block center!”. The second student’s name is called and they shout out “cars!” with excitement. With a four person limit on the centers, they fill up quickly. Block center seems to fill up first, followed by the kitchen area and cars rug. A few students are left sitting on the rug, no longer anxiously waiting, but disappointed with their remaining options. Their names are called and they reluctantly walk to the sensory table or grab a table toy to play with, sometimes they may even be left with the writing center. As I observed the students who were left with the writing center, they mostly just played with magnet letters but without any direction from the teachers, and they did not seem to be learning anything. I took some time to reflect on these observations and I began thinking to myself, how much are the students actually learning through all this playing?
One research article I looked at proves that play is not only beneficial, but crucial to all areas of a child’s development. The article discusses how play is a fun way for students to explore the world around them and develop so many critical skills that they will use for the rest of their lives. Skills like communication with peers, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and imagination. According to another article I found, “Learning which is intrinsically motivated and involves investigation through real life situations has strong emotional value and meaning for the student”. Learning is a journey, and each student is going to move at a different pace along different paths, but in the end they have all discovered new knowledge that is meaningful to them.
After researching play during early childhood, I now have a new lens to look through when digging deeper into my observations. As I revisit my question from earlier, I now have the knowledge to pose an answer which is, simply put, Everything. Each interaction a child has between themself and their environment or peers, as insignificant as it may seem, has taught them something. As they play on the rug with the matchbox cars, they learn how to share, their gross motor skills develop, they think critically about how to build a ramp, and develop problem solving skills when they have to revisit their ramp design because it didn’t work the first time. When I think back and look closer at my play observations, I am able to think of so many specific skills and concepts that students are actually learning in all areas of their development, and I will definitely be taking a closer look at the future interactions I observe.