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Art to Heart

True Play and Joyful Learning

“We think that if we have signed our children up for soccer and ballet and gymnastics and all these things, that we’re giving them what they need, but we’re not,” says movement education consultant Rae Pica.

What young children need most is “true play,” Pica says. And that may not be found in organized activities where children spend more time waiting than participating and where competition is the focus.

What Is True Play?

Pica defines true play this way:

  • It’s self-initiated—by the child.
  • It involves the imagination and creativity.

Starting children in organized, competitive programs too young places them in a situation where they are developmentally unable to understand what is expected, Pica says. “For example, a 5-year-old can’t understand—socially, emotionally, or cognitively—the rules and activities of many sports. They’re not ready.

“So we need to let children organize their own games. And if the rules don’t work, children change them. That’s what problem solving is all about.”

Advice for Parents?

“Realize that it’s OK to take the time to play with your children,” Pica says. “Let them know that it’s OK to find creatures in the clouds and to use their imaginations. And children need to know how to be alone with themselves as well.”

Allowing true play and joyful learning will help develop creative thinkers and problem solvers, Pica believes. “We don’t know what kind of future our children have ahead of them. Things are changing quickly. The one thing I think we can be sure of is that our children will need to solve problems. And that means thinking creatively, thinking imaginatively. Overscheduled children don’t have time to think. They don’t have time to imagine. They don’t have time to be.”

Find Out More

  • Find out more about Pica’s ideas in Program 4 of Art to Heart.
  • Pica’s web site, Moving and Learning, has numerous articles on movement and physical education in early childhood, as well as activity suggestions.
  • Pica has written several books on movement, physical activity, and play, including Great Games for Young Children and Your Active Child.

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