Academic journal article Childhood Education

Play: Essential for All Children. (A Position Paper of the Association for Childhood Education International)

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Play: Essential for All Children. (A Position Paper of the Association for Childhood Education International)

Article excerpt

Children are growing up in a rapidly changing world characterized by dramatic shifts in what all children are expected to know and be able to do. Higher and tougher standards of learning for all populations of students are focusing on a narrow view of learning. Consequently, students have less time and opportunity to play than did children of previous generations. Few would disagree that the primary goal of education is student learning and that all educators, families, and policymakers bear the responsibility of making learning accessible to all children. Decades of research has documented that play has a crucial role in the optimal growth, learning, and development of children from infancy through adolescence. Yet, this need is being challenged, and so children's right to play must be defended by all adults, especially educators and parents. The time has come to advocate strongly in support of play for all children.


The Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) recognizes the need for children of all ages to play and affirms the essential role of play in children's lives. ACEI believes that as today's children continue to experience pressure to succeed in all areas, the necessity for play becomes even more critical. ACEI supports all adults who respect, understand, and advocate legitimizing play as an essential pathway to learning for all populations of children. When working with children, adults should use their knowledge about play to guide their practice.

The 1988 ACEI position statement on play, "Play: A Necessity for All Children" (ACEI/Isenberg & Quisenberry, 1988), has been widely cited and continues to influence the thinking of educators. Unfortunately, the issues presented in 1988 remain unresolved today. The fundamental beliefs, guiding principles, and recommended practices in this position paper are similar to those in the 1988 paper, and continue to be rooted in the latest research, theory, and exemplary practice. We first discuss ACEI's beliefs about play and cite the supporting research and theory. Then, we discuss the guiding principles and practices for play experiences. Finally, we present ACEI's call to action on play.

* ACEI believes that play--a dynamic, active, and constructive behavior--is an essential and integral part of all children's healthy growth, development, and learning across all ages, domains, and cultures.

Play is a dynamic process that develops and changes as it becomes increasingly more varied and complex. It is considered a key facilitator for learning and development across domains, and reflects the social and cultural contexts in which children live (Christie, 2001; Fromberg, 1998, 2002; Hughes, 1999, in press).

Theorists, regardless of their orientation, concur that play occupies a central role in children's lives. They also suggest that the absence of play is an obstacle to the development of healthy and creative individuals. Psychoanalysts believe that play is necessary for mastering emotional traumas or disturbances; psychosocialists believe it is necessary for ego mastery and learning to live with everyday experiences; constructivists believe it is necessary for cognitive growth; maturationists believe it is necessary for competence building and for socializing functions in all cultures of the world; and neuroscientists believe it is necessary for emotional and physical health, motivation, and love of learning.

Moreover, findings from the recent explosion of research on the brain and learning also delineate the importance of play (Jensen, 2000, 2001; Shore, 1997). We know that active brains make permanent neurological connections critical to learning; inactive brains do not make the necessary permanent neurological connections. Research on the brain demonstrates that play is a scaffold for development, a vehicle for increasing neural structures, and a means by which all children practice skills they will need in later life. …

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