Play-based learning is one of the early-childhood education philosophy which is based on the fundamental belief that play serves a serious function in learning. I didn’t realize how much of a supporter I was of the philosophy until trying to registering my daughter for daycare and preschool. The reality was, I began to realize, play-based programs were being edged out by programs with structured curricula the promised academic preparation for math, science, reading and programs that were more competitive (some requiring interviews – for 3-year olds). In talking with one of the Early Childhood Educators, about this, she commented that this was a result of the demand. If offerings were any indication of what parents wanted, as she intimated, then it seemed that Richmond parents wanted was to blur the lines between ECE and school.

Enjoying something because it is fun and not it’s practical purpose is something that all kids do intuitively. Early childhood (before school starts) is such a precious short window in which they can do this full-time and freely without any consequences. Somewhere along the way of growing up, we learn to tailor our activities to those with a specific purpose and to pursue things we don’t necessarily like for a payoff down the road. In essence, most of us grow up and grow out of play.

The benefits of play, such as cultivating creativity, outlasts the period we value play. Google famously popularized this notion championing play by providing employees with paid time to pursue pet projects (although the initiative has since been scaled back). As adults, play needs to be something we consciously permit ourselves to do and requires us to actively make an effort to carve time aside to do.

In my experience, play has the largest effect on my mental health. Perhaps it is because I am most authentically me when I am at play. Making time for pet projects is the best stress reliever and puts me in a mindset where I’m able to manage my time better (to do the things that need to be done). When I’m writing, working on a photo or video project, making something on the sewing machine, or learning something I find intresting on an online course, I know I’m playing at my best because I have to pull myself away to sleep. As daughters would say, “I just want to play, and play, and play!”

The irony of rarity of play-based ECE programs and how challenging I find time for my pet projects are not lost to me. We try hard to ensure that our children are “prepared for life”. Here’s to hoping that we are preparing them for a life where there is room to play!