Your Child's Potential - Promote it Through Play

"Why Play is Important" by James L. Hymes was printed in the 1974 Parent Orientation manual. Following are excerpts from this article:

Adults tend to put the emphasis on "just." Almost every one of us carries within us the seeds of some antiplay feelings.

Some of these antiplay feelings stem from our history, from that time long ago when the scratching out of a livelihood was the full chore of everyday. Then play was evil. Then play was the enemy of survival. Times have changed, but feelings have not.

We in America are future-minded. We plan. We look ahead. It is particularly hard for us to look at humans as they are; we must always view them as they may become.

This makes it hard for us to feel good about play. For play is messing around; play is experimentation; play is a slow sinking in of life's lessons; play is doing over and over.

Play is practice for good living but we can only tolerate practice when it seems highly directed to some clear-cut end, with the sure promise of quick results.

Antiplay feelings arise in one other way. Too many of us today feel frightened by the demands of adult life. Unhappy ourselves, we are apt to resent the carefree play of children. The country that once proudly proclaimed the pursuit of happiness as a decent and legitimate human goal now feels apologetic if its children have fun.

This is the psychological load we carry. Saddled with it, we cannot always pay attention to the factual arguments for play. This must be the case, for the arguments are so strong, so compelling that, if we were free to hear them, they would carry the day.

Every one of us wants children to learn to pay attention. Play so absorbs our children that sometimes we cannot break through to them to make them hear us. This is the very learning in concentration we prize.

Every one of us prizes creative imagination. It is play that builds this into children.

Every one of us wants children to face problems, to think them through and to learn to solve them. Play gives children the chance for this learning.

But even more important: who would deny that life today demands high skill in social relations? Play gives children the practice in these social skills they and our world so desperately need.

The process of growing up adds one more important value of play. Growing up carries with it-inevitably, inherently, inescapable-certain restrictions. Time. Distance. Matter. Events. Age. Size. Skill. These you cannot escape. These are inherent in growing up. To them are added the restrictions that are not natural but which are so deeply rooted in our living as to have that same inevitability. Don't be so slow. Don't touch that.

Children need chances for power. They need chances to build into themselves firmly a strong sense of adequacy. A child growing up needs a world where, for a time, he is boss. In play he can make the world. You can conquer time, distance, gravity, and matter in play.

A child growing up needs a world where, for a time, the penalties are not too severe if he acts the way he feels. In play can he make that safe world. He can become bossy. He can pretend to punish and hit.

A child growing up needs a world where, for a time, he can make his "trial runs," practice sessions that will give him the preparation to take in his stride the threats of life.

Good play can lesson the feelings of fear and anger and inadequacy. It can provide control, so that children do not have to bring a load of fear to all they do. Through good play, children can learn to live with themselves, and learn to live with others and learn to live in this world as this world operates.

We need most of all acceptance of one central idea; when children--or people--like something so much; when they seek it with the drive and intensity that children seek play; when all of their behavior shows that they want it, we must accept the fact that something meaningful and important to them is involved. We have to get in our minds a picture of children as purposeful.

This one change--this shedding of the super-superior concept that children's behavior is meaningless--could lead us to accept children's play.



James L. Hymes, Jr. - 1913 to 1998 - served PCPI as an honorary advisor, as well as being a great friend of cooperative nursery schools. Although he was a nationally recognized leader in the field of Early Childhood, he made time for cooperative preschools, speaking frequently at schools in the Maryland area and writing for cooperative publications.

Dr. Hymes was an early advocate of developmentally appropriate education for young children. He believed in knowing each child as an individual. He believed that all who care about children must speak clearly and constantly in their behalf.