The Rich Value of Summer Fun for Kids

Bigstock 460231962

Play is the work of childhood, but so much more. Consider that tomorrow’s adults may need the skills developed by play – innovation, collaboration, and problem solving – more than any other generation before. Summer is a great time to let children explore unstructured, self-directed play. So what exactly is it that makes play so valuable?

Play primes children for learning. Consider the complexities involved in a simple game of chase. The running and turning and ducking under and climing over obstacles develops motor skills, but that’s just the beginning. Kids have to agree on the game and cooperate with each other, which are social skills. They also have to determine who’s going to be the leader, who’s going to be the follower, and when it’s time to renegotiate the roles.

Senses are the vehicles for childhood learning. You might tell a child, ‘Eight ounces is eight ounces no matter what kind of shape it takes, but when he’s playing with a glass of water and pours it into a short, fat bowl, and then pours the same water into a tall, skinny glass, he sees what you mean. Children do not have the capacity for abstract thinking. They learn by doing, and that’s what playing is all about: doing.

It teaches us about ouselves. In every episode of unstructured play, a child learns about himself. Self-directed play teaches children to turn back on their own resources and rely on their sense of self. It is this sense of self that provides a home base, a place to retreat to, throughout life.

Madeline Levine is a clinician, consultant and educator, and author of “Teach Your Children Well.”