The Power of Play


By Nancy Tang

Director, Acton Barn Cooperative Preschool


Parents who want to provide the best opportunities for their young children are often presented with a myriad of formal classes and activities. It is important that we stop and take a look at the value of play, exploration and wonder for young children. Anyone who has spent time watching kittens or puppies frolicking can see that the play they engage in is preparing them for their adult lives. Likewise there is purpose in the play of young children. Through play children learn cooperation, self-confidence and problem solving skills.  But it is through hands on play that children also learn math, science, language and literacy. Early Childhood is a time of incredible brain growth; a time when synapses are being formed and strengthened by hands on interactions and self-discovery.

Yet there is a recent trend to concentrate on rigorous “academics” in kindergarten and even preschool. As well-meaning adults lead this race to the top, children are being pushed ahead too fast too soon. At first glance it may appear that no child is being left behind, but most cannot maintain this early sprint through the rest of the distance ahead.  Breaking too fast from the gate can take its toll on even the strongest competitors over the long portions of the journey ahead. The focus has been shifted from children internalizing concepts through self-discovery to memorizing through rote, and the tests schools are rushing to pass mark only short term learning not long term results. Stress levels are increasing in our youngest children. Sensory issues are on the rise “due in part to inadequate opportunities to move and play at an early age.” (Strauss)

Hundreds of teachers and education scholars have signed a statement of grave concerns that reads “Young children learn best in active, hands-on ways and in the context of meaningful real-life experiences.” (Berdik).

Nancy Carlsson-Paige Ed.D. Professor Emerita, author and longtime advocate for children summed up the situation last November in her acceptance speech for the Hero in Education Award:

We have decades of research in child development and neuroscience that tell us that young children learn actively—they have to move, use their senses, get their hands on things, interact with other kids and teachers, create, invent….

And never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we would have to defend children’s right to play. I could not have foreseen… that we would have to fight for classrooms for young kids that are developmentally appropriate. Instead of active, hands-on learning, children now sit in chairs for far too much time getting drilled on letters and numbers.

It can be exciting to watch our children master new skills. But we must remember to nurture the whole child-to allow them to make discoveries on their own. Children need time to play; to  explore, to make connections, and to become excited about what they discover as they work with others, or on their own at home and in school.

For more information check out the resources and information available from Defending the Early Years at




Berdik, Chris. “Is The Common Core Killing Kindergarten?” Boston Globe (n.d.): n. pag. 2015 Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC, 14 June 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.

Strauss, Valerie. “The Decline of Play in Preschoolers–and the Rise in Sensory Issues.” Washington Post (n.d.): n. pag. The Washington Post, 1 Sept. 2015. Web. 06 Nov. 2015.

“DEY’S Nancy Carlsson-Paige Receives Hero in Education Award from Fair Test.” Blog at WordPresscom, 11 Nov. 2015. Web. 14 Dec. 2015


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