The Wonder of it all


There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million. ~Walt Streightiff

Recently I have been spending a lot of time with babies – mostly at work. The curriculum is simple – set up environments where they can touch everything. The goal is to say ‘no’ as few times as possible. This is quite easy when one is intentional about setting up the environment and have parents who understand how important it is for children to engage all their senses during play.
Today I watched a little girl just over a year old do some remarkable things. She dropped slips of oval construction paper through a slit on the top of an empty formula can. With each drop into the can she would look at me then break out into giggles of happiness. She repeated this until all the pieces ended up in the can, then she handed me the can and signed “more.” So I promptly removed the lid off the can and dumped the papers onto the table, then returned the lid to the top of the can, and she began to repeat the activity. I watched her every move; I could see the wheels in her mind turning, watching her make the connections. I thought about how I could modify the activity so that she could discover something different, but she did that on her own. She shook the can. She took the lid off and dumped the contents onto the floor, then sat down next to the little pile and put the papers back in the can. I handed her some wooden geometrical shapes, some I knew would fit through the slit in the lid, others would not.I watched her as she marveled with each attempt at trying to put the new objects through the slit. With each success, she would giggle her contagious giggle and the play would continue until it ended on its own. It is unique to each of us – what draws our attention and how we explore what interests us – no matter what our age.
The wonder of it all, I thought. This is what our lives should be about.
“When we play, we are engaged in the purest expression of our humanity, the truest expression of our individuality.”
—Stuart Brown, M.D., researcher, psychiatrist, and play advocate

What I love about the field of early childhood education is watching the wonder in children’s eyes as they move through the world in complete “wonder” mode. What is sad is that children are only allowed to have the freedom to explore in this unadulturated way for such a short amount of time in their childhood – now it seems in some settings as little as the first three years of life – then their time is “programmed” and the pure joy of play for the sake of play is programmed out of the child’s life in lieu of academic pursuits that those in power label “school readiness.”
It is a child’s ‘job’ or ‘occupation’ to play to develop physical coordination, emotional maturity, social skills to interact with other children, and self-confidence to try new experiences and explore new environments. The more time and freedom to engage in activities that children find engaging, the better children do their “job.” I find that many of my well-meaning co-workers and colleagues in the field are so pre-occupied with curriculum and assessments that the time children are given to explore and discover what is ‘wonderful’ to them is limited.
Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child. By limiting play we are depriving our future generations of their right to develop in ways that are healthy and good for them.

Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills.
When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.
This is true school readiness….spread the word.


2 responses »

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your post. I appreciated your pointing out the specific merits of undirected play. I was in a meeting with a group of play advocates in Santa Monica, CA recently… it was the play matters group of the late Docia Zavitkovsky. We went around and around thinking of ways to capture in abrief statement our thoughts on play… we thought of things like, “playing is learning”, etc… but we left with the phrase, “just play dammit” on our lips… I am terribly fearful that we are at a turning point, staring into a chasm in which real play has vanished forever… I do want to shout at people to “just play dammit.” Before we all forget.

    • Thank you for your comments – always appreciated! Please let me know more about this group – I believe that I need to be a part of such a group that advocates this philosophy. It is amazing that we call it progressive, when realistically it is really back to basics. I am excited that the next two weeks in this class are focused on play – and I will pass on the new slogan….:)


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