What is Real Play?

By Leslie Hundt, Curriculum Specialist for Ebenezer’s Southside Child Care Center

What is real play? It is play created and directed by the children. It is play that stems from the lives of children. It is play created from their experiences rather than the mandates of adults.

Tragically, real play has almost  disappeared from the lives of children. Why has this happened? There are many reasons such as long hours spent in front of screens, busy scheduled lives and hours spent in adult led activities. Other reasons children are not involved in free style play is the fear of stranger danger or the risk of getting hurt. Many children have lives so tightly scheduled there is no time for free play. We have trained children, from infancy onward to turn to a screen or directed activity rather than their own imagination and creativity.

When children play they exhibit a whole range of emotions. Some are not nice and can be kind of scary to the children and to the adults who are observing. Children need to play out the stories in their lives. This type of play helps them understand the changes taking place around them. Playing also helps children learn the real lessons of life, how to  negotiate, take turns, play by the rules and suffer the consequences when they don’t. Play helps children learn to make friends and be a friend. Without play how will children learn these important life skills? They  cannot be taught by an adult because adults are not a peer. Adults hold some level of authority over children and they will succumb to this authority rather than learn life skills as they do with children their own age. If we want children to be successful adults who can work within a community of  people we need to allow them to make mistakes, take risks and succeed through their own merit.