Success by 6: The Power of Play

Colette Ernst, Sby6 Coordinator


I recently watched Daddy Daycare with my two girls. The movie begins with two fathers of preschool children, finding themselves unemployed, who decide to open a daycare.

With no training and no understanding of the enormity of the task, the fathers have a steep learning curve. They only know the current preschool Chapman Academy is anything but fun and believes that all learning should regimented. What the dads learn by the end of the movie is that kids are not adults, and that the best environment for a child to learn is one of support, listening and fun.

All children need to play. Infants explore their environment through their senses, at their pace and interest level. Toddlers engage in pretend play, imitating actions and events in their families and surroundings. As children grow their play activities develop their motor & social skills to expand their knowledge of the world around them. But it’s more than that. Playing is full of energy, vibrancy and passion. Play nurtures personal connections and is unique to each child. Play is creative, open-ended, flexible and voluntary. Play can happen anywhere, indoors or outside.

Tumbler Ridge is full of outdoor play opportunities in natural environments. During the summer months, the sun is out and the world is a green paradise. Taking your child out exploring the outdoor parks and recreation sites can offer so many new experiences for young children at very little to no cost to families.

Recently I joined two other families to hike to the TR point, the youngest just a year old. We found wild raspberries, strawberries and Saskatoon berries alongside the trail (which we ate), numerous types of mushrooms (which we didn’t) and marvelled at dew drops still present on leaves in shady areas.

Parents can encourage outdoor exploration during family outings like this. Choose a trail to hike or a park to visit for a day trip, or take the kids camping in the backyard or local recreation site and the sky is the limit.

Learning is important. In the words of Becca from Daddy Daycare “We need more learning about things! … We are at a very critical age. You have to feed our minds!” But there is a difference between early acquisition of academics and optimal development.

According to Jane Hewes chair of the Childhood Education Program at Grant MacEwan College play is foundational in the early years. “Play nourishes every aspect of children’s development– physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and creative,” she writes. “The learning in play is integrated, powerful, and largely invisible to the untrained eye. Much of this learning happens without direct teaching. It is learning that is important to the learner. Play has an intrinsic value in childhood and long-term developmental benefits.”

There are many kinds of play: Exploration play, dramatic play, construction play, physical play and children often flow from one form of play to another. A child’s building blocks may naturally progress to dramatic play with cars and people. My daughter’s dress-ups games will often lead to a fashion show with themed outfits and special dance moves. In play children become the masters of their choices, they choose how far to test themselves and the limit of their imaginations. In play children learn as a by-product. They do not play to learn, but they are learning in the most important and fundamental way.

I recently read that boredom is healthy. Unstructured time, away from electronics, develops our ability to be creative and maybe even try something new. As parents we need to encourage our children’s natural drive to explore and challenge themselves. We need to give our children opportunities for free creative play and also take the time to play with them, connect with them and show them we enjoy their company. Playing together needs to be fun for everyone, not dominated by the adults vision of perfection, but also not completely controlled by the child, play should be a shared joy.

Wayne Gretzky said “ You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” When we give children the freedom to be themselves we gift them with self-esteem and an opportunity to take those shots in life. Making mistakes and missing the mark is part of life. While children may not always be victorious, they should always be valued, which leads to future successes as adults.

My sister is a preschool teacher in Powell River. This year she had a wall in her class with photos of each of her students playing something they love and words like “Future Pilot” and “Future Dentist” under each. In the middle of the images is a poster that states “Learning starts with play. Wondering, exploring, figuring it out… Play has a purpose. It’s how children make sense of the world around them and find their place in it. That’s the Power of Play.”