Posted by: Alex Borders | January 9, 2011

NY Times – Effort to Restore Play

Sunday 9th January

“The ability to play is one of the principal criteria of mental health” – Ashley Montagu, Anthropologist and Humanist

Rudolf Steiner long believed in the vital nature of play for the young child.  This is how he came to design a curriculum that is responsive to the developmental phases of childhood and to the nurturing of the child’s imagination in a school environment.

The New York Times recently carried an article calling for the restoration of playtime for children.  Author Hilary Stout writes “for several years, studies and statistics have been mounting to suggest the culture of play in the United States is vanishing.  Children spend far too much time in front of a screen, educators and parents lament – 7 hours 38 minutes a day on average, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation last year. And only one in five children live within walking distance (half a mile) of a park or playground, according to a 2010 report by the federal Center for Disease Control, making them even less inclined to frolic outdoors.”

“Too little playtime may seem to rank far down on the list of society’s worries, but the scientists, psychologists, educators and others who are part of the play movement say that most of the social and intellectual skills one needs to succeed in life and work are first developed through childhood play.  Children learn to control their impulses through games like Simon Says, play advocates believe, and they learn to solve problems, negotiate, think creatively and work as a team when they dig together in a sandbox or build a fort with sofa cushions.”

In her article The Vital Role of Play in Childhood, Joan Almon writes “The universal nature of play is evident.  One can speak of the language of play that unites young children all over the world.  It is fascinating to watch children from different countries playing together.  Although they may not be able to speak one word of the other’s language, they can play together for hours. They enter a common realm where the external differences of language and culture are small compared to the vast similarities embedded in the child’s inner urge to play…. Play is of central importance in a child’s life. This is well supported by decades or research.”

Almon goes on to conclude that “research and experience show strong relationships between a child’s capacity to play and his or her overall development – physical, social, emotional and intellectual.  There is reason to be deeply concerned that as play disappears from childhood children will suffer in all these areas.  In may countries play is diminishing and the first indications of such suffering are becoming apparent.  Yet nation after nation is rushing toward removing play from young children’s lives in the misguided belief that three-to six-year olds are ripe and ready for direct instruction in early literacy and other academic subjects.”

Sally Jenkinson author of The Genius of Play: Celebrating the Spirit of Childhood argues that the imagination is both a vehicle for human creativity and a vital social force which leads us, through empathetic thinking and imitation to the realm of “the other”. Jenkinson argues that to deny children the right to play is to risk cultural, social and personal deprivation.

At The Waldorf School of Philadelphia we believe that play is the work of childhood. Children in the Early Childhood Program have the opportunity for free-play every morning when they can build play forts from the tables, chairs and silks and learn to include one another in their imaginary games of let’s pretend. Children also get to play outdoors twice a day for at least forty-five minutes at a time.  Children here run, climb, dig and tumble outdoors in all but extreme weathers.  Visit our website for more information but better still come visit and find out how playtime is paramount and why Waldorf Education is one of the fastest growing independent school movements worldwide.  Our next Open House is on Saturday, January 22nd at 10.00 a.m.  Call 215 248 1210 for a reservation.

To read Almons article visit Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America

To read Hilary Stouts New York Times article “Effort to Restore Children’s Play Gains Momentum” visit

Further reading The Genius of Play by  Sally Jenkinson.  Jenkinson’s book The Genius of Play is available on Amazon.


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