At Maple Bear, we strongly believe in the importance of free play. The term ‘play’ may often be misunderstood as an activity with little purpose or substance. However, the reality is quite the contrary. Let’s explore the importance of free play and how it shapes early childhood learning.
Understanding Free Play
Free play is:
- Driven by inner motivation (no external rewards needed).
- An activity children naturally find enjoyable and satisfying.
- Allows for self-direction and choices.
- A space for creativity and imagination.
- Stimulating both physically and mentally.
- An activity they’re willing to repeat, which encourages practice.
On the other hand, free play is NOT:
- A “time filler” while waiting for something else.
- A reward for finishing “real work”.
- Withheld as a punishment.
Why is Free Play Important?
- Cognitive Growth: Play is the work of children. Through play, they discover and understand the world around them, fostering mental development and creativity.
- Language Development: Play promotes language development. Children communicate, express, and converse during play, laying the foundation for strong linguistic skills.
- Social Skills: Through play, kids learn to understand rules, make choices, and develop their decision-making skills.
The Teacher’s Role in Free Play
During free play, teachers take on several important roles to help guide and support kids. These roles include:
- Facilitator: Teachers provide support, vocabulary, and feedback during play.
- Observer: Through observing, teachers witness children showcasing their learning in real and authentic ways.
- Assessor: Free play offers teachers a chance to gather genuine data for planning and evaluation.
- Playmate: At times, teachers join children in their play, encouraging deeper and broader engagement.
Empowering Children through Free Play
Children should not be viewed as “empty vessels” awaiting instruction. Instead, they come alive when actively engaged in their own learning. Free play goes beyond mere fun; it’s an opportunity for kids to be hands-on and minds-on, diving into exploration, experimentation, and personal interactions. It celebrates children as active participants in their learning journey, not just passive receivers of information.
Free Play in Action: The Maple Bear Classroom Experience
In Maple Bear, play is a crucial element of the curriculum, serving an incredibly important role, especially in the early stages of education, such as preschool and the first grades of primary school. In the classroom, free play can take many forms, often reflecting the materials and guidance provided by the teacher.
For example, when children are given different sized blocks, they engage in play that is both active and mentally engaging. The children might build towers, bridges, or imaginary structures, experimenting with balance, symmetry, and design. As they select specific blocks for their structures, the teacher might ask them questions to prompt deeper thinking: “Why did you choose the long block here?” or “What can we do to make this structure stronger?” This inquiry encourages children to reflect on their choices and verbalize their thought processes, promoting their understanding of spatial relationships and problem-solving skills.
Maple Bear’s Commitment to Free Play
Free play is at the cornerstone of Maple Bear’s Early Childhood Programs. Every day, we ensure children have the freedom to decide where they want to be and engage in genuine play – exploring, discovering, and learning. Embracing this philosophy, we firmly believe that:
Playing to learn,
Learning to play,
That’s the Early Childhood way!
Autor: Magdalena Chromik, Academic Coordinator – Maple Bear Katowice