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The Power of Play

By:  Susan Gray, Lower Elementary Directress

Recently, I read another thought-filled book by David Elkind. The title of his 2007 book, “The Power of Play – Learning What Comes Naturally,”   caught my attention and was one of those eye-opening books. Other books by Dr. Elkind include: “The Hurried Child,” “All Grown Up and No Place to Go,” “Miseducation,” “Reinventing Childhood,” and “Grandparenting: Understanding Today’s Children.”

In his introduction to “The Power of Play,” Elkind writes, “Children’s play–their inborn disposition for learning, curiosity, imagination, and fantasy–is being silenced in the high-tech, commercialized work we have created.” He also notes that, “Over the past two decades, children have lost twelve hours of free time a week, including eight hours of unstructured play and outdoor activities.” Some areas he addresses are health consequences for the child resulting from the disappearance of play, the psychological consequences of the failure to engage in spontaneous self-initiated play, and that schools may contribute to the suppression of curiosity, imagination, and fantasy (one point was that many elementary schools are eliminating recess in favor of more time for academics.) It was a treat to read several passages and references to Montessori education in his book.

Part One of this book deals with the changing world of play, and these titles of the chapters give helpful hints about the direction of his writing: “Play, Love, and Work: An Essential Trio,” “Toys Aren’t Us,” Screen Play and Iconic Literacy,” and “Child Play and Parent Angst.” Part Two opens with a discussion on three misunderstandings about how youngsters learn – then moves on to his theories on learning through play. He states: “Young children create learning experiences through four major types of play:  mastery play, innovative play, kinship play, and therapeutic play. Mastery play makes it possible for children to construct concepts and skills. Innovative play occurs when the child has mastered concepts and skills, and introduces variations. Kinship play initiates the child into the world of peer relations. Therapeutic play gives children strategies for dealing with stressful life events.” He continues, “I recognize that this division of play types is artificial, and I introduce it only for purposes of discussion; infants and young children don’t divvy up their learning into categories. Their intellectual, social, and emotional learning occurs at the same time. So the types of play that I identify here should not be considered compartments with hard-and-fast boundaries.”

The next area that Elkind delves into is “playing for a reason: building the units of math, reading, and science. An interesting example of this kind of play occurs in the fort cultures of children, in which children demonstrate that they need their own space as well as time for play. If you were to observe Ruffing’s upper elementary at play time, you might see some of their fort cultures at work (or is it play?) (or is it work and play?) (or is it work, play, and love?).

Part Three of The Power of Play is really fun-filled reading. It begins with a chapter titled, “Lighthearted Parenting.” Elkind reminds us to use humor to help us in our ongoing effort to integrate play, love, and work in our own child-rearing practices. Use humor to help children to socialize. Use humor to discipline. He reminds parents to share their own passions with their children and to establish patterns of family play, games, and shared experiences. Elkind includes charming vignettes to emphasize the powerful tool of humor.

His closing chapter is “Schooling with Heart, Mind, and Body.” In this chapter Montessori education was given several “mentions” and accolades. He writes, “I can offer anecdotal evidence of the fact that children appreciate the value of a Montessori education: those of my students who have gone to a Montessori school are uniform in their praise. They seem to be thankful for what they learned and for being given a standard against which to assess high-quality educational practice.” That’s a joy for Montessori folks to read!

The epilogue of this book is titled, “Gifts for a Lifetime,” and it closes with this reminder: “It is only when we integrate play, love, and work that we, as children and adults, can live happy, healthy, and productive lives.” So…read this book and play, play, play – more often, unstructured, outdoors, and passionately!

Ruffing Montessori School   |   3380 Fairmount Blvd Cleveland Heights, OH 44118   |   Phone: (216) 321-7571   |   Hours 8am-4pm M-F   |   After Hours Phone (216) 321-0913