At the Starting Strong conference in August I attended a workshop presented by the Institute of Learning and Brain Science (ILABS) from the University of Washington about the Power of Play. There I learned about two kinds of play and the importance of both in fostering child development.
- Free Play
- Guided Play
Free play does not mean “free-for-all”. Children are given parameters and specific supplies to use during free play. But this is the play that is both child initiated and child directed. They are choosing to play and they are determining what and how play will proceed. The child (or children) set their own “rules” of play (think about children playing house—“you be the mom and I will be the baby”). Children are left to explore and manipulate the supplies in a way that they want, that fit into the preset parameters. Free play is important for children so they can experiment, manipulate, discover, try new things, test ideas, and try again.
However, children cannot learn all that they need to just through free play. This is where guided play comes in. This kind of play is still child centered, however, adults gently ask questions to the child during play that assists in learning. Such questions may include: “How many? What color? How else could you…? Why did that work/not work? Tell me about what you are doing.” This helps the child to make connections and think critically, which they may not be able to on their own.
We need to explain to parents and caregivers the two kinds of play and why they are both important. One way we can do this is through incorporate both of these kinds of play into our play and learn storytimes. ...letting kids explore on their own, but also take opportunities to talk to children about what they are doing.