by Julia Macdonald, Preschool Teacher
This September my class was so excited to be back together. For many, it was the first time they had been able to play with their peers in months. When it was time to be outside I noticed a type of play I had never seen before. Outdoors, the children had built a little shop with others gathering and asking to buy different things when one of the children yelled out “oh no, we forgot our masks, the shop has to close!” The other children quickly scurried away to play along with the new game. They soon returned and the shop reopened and began to fill the orders of the waiting children. This game returned day after day for the first few weeks of school. In my own family, my children over the summer had created a new game called “Covid tag.” All these children were using their play time to work through the abstract concepts and stresses that had come into their lives into something they were able to more easily digest.
Play is the work of a young child. In preschool, about half of our time together is devoted to imaginative playing. This time is not a free for all. Rather it is a time set aside in a warm and nurturing environment where the children have access to open-ended toys and are given a chance to have the time to deeply settle into their play. So much is learned through playing. Social skills are constantly being fine-tuned during play time, everything from taking turns with toys, to setting boundaries to listening to others’ ideas for developing a new game. Play is also a time to build community and strengthen our creative forces. Bumps, spills and things being knocked over are also a part of play, which teaches children how to adjust, correct their mistakes and be empathetic toward those around them. Deep and rich play can help children work through challenges that arise, teaching them the skills they need to grow through difficult situations and create the ability to accept new ideas, feelings and relationships. Free imaginative play is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children, with endless benefits, including deepening compassion and building resilience as they grow.