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Power of play

For many years I was principal of Barkley Bridge Elementary School. When people ask what I miss most about that role, I tell them it’s children’s laughter.   

If ever I had to leave campus for a meeting or event, it would warm my heart to pull back into my parking spot at the front of the school, open my car door and immediately hear the sound of children’s laughter wafting through the air from the playground to the parking lot. It was the sound of pure joy. 

The National Association for the Education of Young Children website speaks to the power of play in children’s lives. In an article called “10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Play,” author Laura Bongiorno asserts play and learning are intertwined. “Think about them as a science lecture with a lab. Play is the child’s lab.” 

Through various types of play, she explains, children learn and develop different skills. They learn cognitive skills, like math and problem solving in a pretend grocery storenew vocabularylike the words they need to play with toy dinosaurs; social skills, like how to play together in a pretend car wash; and literacy skills, like creating a menu for a pretend restaurant.  

Play develops imagination in children, and imagination is something they will need as they grow older. Play grows their emotional capacities to self-manage and problem-solve. Being able to approach an old problem in a new way and see solutions others cannot see is a product of imagination. Its development must be nurtured. 

Of course, children’s balance and coordination improve with running and other playground activities, and it’s not just about physical dexterity or weight management – children’s stress is reduced by physical activity in the same way adult stress is reduced by physical activity. 

There are bright summer days on the horizon. Encourage your children to get outside and play. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give them. 

And if you get to hear that laughter in the air – well, that’s quite a gift, too! 

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