The Importance of Play

This week we begin a two-part series on the importance of play. Read below to learn more about play and it's importance in early childhood development.

It started for me at a Barnes and Noble in Chicago. I was a sophomore in college at DePaul University studying elementary education. I was part of a nonprofit organization that focused on early childhood language and literacy. I loved reading but was a poor college student who found herself browsing the clearance books. And then I saw it. The book that would change my career forever.

Einstein Never Used Flashcards by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek. A book that told me to stop using rote memorization and flashcards and focus on play. It completely went against the way I was taught (hello, timed tests and vocabulary cards) and focused exclusively on the benefits of play. It changed my life. It was that day that I decided I was going to be a preschool teacher.


From that day on I made it my mission as a preschool teacher to incorporate play. I was an advocate for play. But while children loved it, parents questioned it. I spent years finding resources to provide families with a better understanding of the importance of play. And now I've compiled a list here. A list for educators to share with families and for families to understand why my classroom looks and interacts the way it does!

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. -Fred Rogers

What is Play?

Play is the work of children. It is how children make sense of the world. How they learn social skills, cause and effect, trial and error, social norms and rules. It is child-directed and is enjoyable and spontaneous.

When children play they are building the foundation for later learning.

Sometimes play is structured (such as when children play house with defined roles or play a board game like Candyland or checkers) and sometimes it may look random, unstructured, or like nothing much is happening (when a child dumps out toys or walks through a puddle).


Play is Essential to Children's Development

Before children can use language to ask questions, they learn through playing. By playing children learn:

  • cognitive skills (like problem solving when they are trying to build a tall tower)

  • new physical boundaries (such as practicing to skip or kicking a ball)

  • new vocabulary (when learning about dinosaur names)

  • social skills (when playing Legos or sharing manipulatives)

  • literacy skills ("reading" the label off of food cartons in dramatic play)

While this play can be intentional (learn more about that next week), these skills can also be developed without even realizing. At I Can Math we introduce children to early math concepts, but we do it through play. You may have heard me (or another member of our team) say, "We are teaching children math skills without realizing they are learning math skills" or "The basis of what we do is rooted in play". You won't find worksheets, time tables or route memorization in our curriculum. But you will find games, toys, songs and lots of fun!


Join us next week as we look at the types of play and how to engage children in meaningful play.

Author: Amanda Gryzkewicz Gloyer is the Founder & CEO of I Can Math. With a degree in elementary education and her experience as a preschool teacher, Amanda created I Can Math in collaboration with former board member, Adam Goldberg, to support preschool classrooms in math education. She holds a Master’s in Public Service Management from DePaul University and a Master’s in Early Childhood Education from Northern Arizona University. Originally from Wisconsin, Amanda lives in Arizona with her husband Kevin, their two children and puggle Rocco.