November 28, 2016 by

Why Play is Essential for the Classroom

Play is essential to children’s social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development. Children’s playtime has been taken away and replaced with rigorous instruction and standardized tests. Children’s learning in early childhood classrooms are being held to a higher standard. Kindergartners are being expected to know how to read early-leveled books and are starting to prepare for standardized tests. Standardized tests are not appropriate for our youngest students, instead early learning should focus on play. Students should be assessed using observations, anecdotal notes, and checklists as they are the most appropriate for young students. Students Why Play Is Essential for the Classroomshould be receiving education that truly supports their development.

In the article “Let the Kids Learn Through Play” Kohn talks about how there is little evidence that rigorous instruction for early learners actually improves achievement later on in their school career. In fact Kohn states, “it may have the opposite effect, potentially slowing emotional and cognitive development, causing unnecessary stress and perhaps even souring kids’ desire to learn.” Teachers in classrooms are struggling to keep student’s attention and get them understand their instruction. If students had the opportunity to have that unstructured imaginative play throughout the day would this still be the case? Would students in the long run be doing better in school? If students continue learning without play in education will they grow into adults who have no imagination? Will they follow along with any information they are given? The United States education system will no longer play a role in developing the minds of inventors, discoverers, or innovators.

Play is so often viewed as activity that leads to nothing learned or gained for the partakers. Teachers are forced to suppress their student’s play and creativity due to higher standards for early elementary school students. They feel that if they give their students the opportunity to partake in play and creativity they will be criticized for doing so. The students in the room aren’t learning if they are playing right? Wrong. Now, I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any organized learning in the classroom and students play all day long but, students should be given more opportunities than they currently do to have unstructured imaginative play.

Children who are not exposed to sufficient play suffer in all areas of development. Butler states in her article “Learning Through Play,” that children without play “…run the risk of entering school unprepared, growing into teens and adults without needed skills, and failing to meet their potential.” Butler also says “experts at the Institute for Play believe that healthy play in childhood can even prevent violence.” The United States (and for that matter, the world) has seen an increase in violence over the past decade. People have to be more aware of their surroundings now. Schools have had to become more mindful of their security, having police officers on campus, and identification tags if someone is a visitor. There have been 15 school shootings in 2016 alone.

Why Play is Essential for the Classroom

Is play being taken out of the curriculum the reason why violence has increased so much? It is quite possible that it’s a big factor in it. Healthy play helps gain “…confidence as well as self-esteem, building relationships, problem-solving, conflict resolution, expanding language, understanding rules and limits, discovering talents, sparking creativity, inspiring thinking, defining personality, and sorting out likes and dislikes.” With so many benefits to play we are hurting our students growth when we ask them to adhere to the rigorous standards and standardized tests.

Play needs to be brought back into the early childhood classrooms in some way. Play is vital to the academic growth of our young students. When play is taken out of the curriculum it hurts our students in all areas of development. A standardized test is not going to help a child develop social or problem solving skills. A student’s education should be based off of what is going to help them grow in all areas of development.


By Emily Petrey, a first grade teacher in the Lexington School District One in South Carolina. She is in her third year of teaching. She earned a bachelor’s degree with honors from the University of South Carolina in Early Childhood Education.  She is currently working towards a master’s degree in teaching from the University of South Carolina. In her teaching she strives to learn new and more effective ways to help her students become successful. A child who is given the right tools can succeed at anything.