As she reaches about three years old, your child uses her imagination to try out adult roles in creative play, she learns to concentrate, and she naturally develops her intellect and logical thinking through trial and error while playing. Through pretend play, she can overcome fears by trying out new competencies that lead to confidence and resilience. Your child plays for the simple joy and sake of it. When she plays, she is fully and passionately involved in the present moment.
If children are pushed to learn too much information or to master technical toys before they have a chance to develop their imagination, they have to leave their magical world early and are deprived of the fantasy-filled and creative processes of play. When I was teaching at Dream Window Kindergarten, the classes were divided among three-, four-, and five-year-old children. Asobi (play) was their main purpose at the kindergarten, as they engaged in art, music, drama, drawing, storytelling, problem solving, and outdoor activity.
The Lemelson Center at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, in partnership with the Science Museum of Minnesota, hosted an exhibit called “Invention at Play,” which explored the similarities between children’s play and the inventive processes used by inventors and scientists . The exhibit emphasized the following aspects of play:
- Make-believe—Pretending helps both children and scientists navigate between the real and imaginary worlds while learning the differences between them. Imagination encourages original thinking, flexibility, adaptability, empathy, and the ability to generate multiple solutions to a problem. Pretend play encourages people to think visually and spatially and to capture and express ideas.
- Problem solving—The process of changing or manipulating patterns can generate new ideas. Playing with puzzles and games helps people recognize and understand categories and associations. This helps them to find new patterns and to break out of old ones in order to solve problems.
- Exploration—Experimenting with materials and pushing limits encourage people to find multiple ways of creating results.
- Collaboration—Social play teaches people how to share, to communicate, and to collaborate. Discussing ideas with others can enhance creative abilities and provide options when solving problems.
Through play, inventors develop persistence, curiosity, imagination, communication, and problem solving—all of which are essential items in their tool kit. As part of the exhibit, the Lemelson Center posed an important question: if the quality and quantity of play are changing so that children have less time for unstructured play, how will that influence future inventions?
In a hurried and pressured lifestyle, free play may get lost. Unstructured play provides the opportunity for your child to engage in curiosity and wonder. Through self-driven play, she actively participates in initiating and organizing her own play activities. This allows her to move at her own pace, to develop her ability to make decisions, and to discover her own interests and passions.
When you join her in child-driven play, you have the opportunity to see the world from her perspective, which helps you to understand her needs better and to communicate with her more effectively.
Indoors, her imagination can flourish with pretend play and creative projects, while outdoor play means fresh air, sunshine, exercise, reflection, and conversation. The relaxed nature of unstructured play provides a balance to the tension of structures and routines. Your role, as a parent, is to provide a safe environment that is rich in resources, while encouraging your child’s opportunity for natural learning.
Play engages all kinds of learning and involves both lower and higher mental functions. I named my company “i play.” because play is fundamental to children’s healthy growth and development. I believe that when children play, they find their natural state of essence, a state of presence in which doing and being merge.