The first time I taught a course on play, I used the term Play Defenders. I told my students, as future early childhood educators, they would have to become Play Defenders. It might be parents, or other teachers, or even their administrator that questioned their insistence on free play being part of the curriculum, thus their job would be to defend play. I armed them with research on the benefits of play not only to help with learning, but to promote social and emotional development which to me was way more important. When it comes to the need to defend play, not much has changed in the past five years since I taught that first course on play. Now I teach, research, and write about the need to defend play. Not just to my students, but to the teachers who mentor them, the administrators who hire them, the parents who entrust them to teach their child, and the lawmakers who decide which early childhood programs to fund.
Resistance to play is everywhere. Parents stressed that their child will not do well in kindergarten or graduate from high school can become resistant to play. Teachers forced to raise test scores at all cost will likely resist play as a waste of time. Administrators looking to prove their programs are a worthy investment will view play as risky instead of necessary. And lawmakers demanding to see evidence of long-term growth and increased academic achievement will be resistant to see the value in play. Given all this resistance, what chance do the Play Defenders have at saving play?
Well, the Play Defenders have a new ally in their fight to save play…pediatricians. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a clinical report last month that depicts the role pediatricians have in using play to promote healthy development in all young children. The report provides a comprehensive review of play including definitions, benefits, challenges, and barriers, and ends with five recommendations for pediatricians. The final recommendation suggests pediatricians can “encourage playful learning for parents and infants by writing a ‘prescription for play’ at every well-child visit in the first 2 years of life”. I never thought the day would come where we would need doctors to prescribe play, but that is our reality. My only critique of this article is that this recommendation should say for the first 10 years of life!
We now live in a world where states that do not offer public pre-k or kindergarten are spending millions on online preschools (yes, that is just as terrible as it sounds). Instead of finding ways to make high-quality preschool accessible to more families, they are cutting corners and spending money on online programs that claim to prepare young children for kindergarten. We also live in a world where researchers are just starting to understand how young children are affected by trauma and adverse childhood experiences, but we see little action from local, state, and the federal government to address these issues. Maybe we need doctors prescribing play for all children to make Play Defenders become a thing of the past. Imagine a world where a preschool teacher announces that it is time to do work, and the child says, “I have a note from my doctor that says I get to play.” Sounds like a dream, but I say we make it a reality.
Click here to read Defending the Early Years and Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood statement against funding for online preschool.