Do you daydream? Studies show that the brain is not idle during daydreaming. While imagining, the brain is actually very active.
Imaginative, self-directed play is simply essential for cognitive, physical, social and emotional development. Through play children become smarter and less stressed.
It is so incredibly important that young children have opportunities to use their imagination. This can be done through quiet reflective times or through a variety of types of play. During play children pretend, experiment and explore using their body and all of their senses, with a variety of objects, in many different ways.
Too often it is thought that the best way to help children develop is to plan structured activities. David Elkind, author of, The Hurried Child, has been quoted as saying, “Play has to be reframed and seen not as an opposite to work but rather as a complement.” He also says, “Curiosity, imagination and creativity are like muscles: if you don’t use them, you lose them.” The curiosity, imagination and creativity that Elkind emphasizes are higher level brain skills.
The development of imagination and creative thought is one of the many reasons I feel so strongly about the importance of play. Additionally, it is important to point out that learning may actually be slowed by overly academic preschool experiences that introduce formalized learning too early.
Exploration opportunities are critical to optimal development. It is simply essential that these opportunities are provided for all young children.
The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that needs to be developed well for curiosity, imagination and creativity, to thrive. It is also the brain area that is important for the ability to have empathy, control impulses, plan, anticipate consequences and regulate behaviors.
It Isn’t Complicated
The brain grows in sequential fashion, from the least complex functioning area to the most complex. There are three crucial points to make about this fact.
- Even though the most complex area of the brain is the last to complete development, experiences in the early months and years have a very significant impact.
- Children need experiences that are appropriate for their developmental level in the early months and years to wire the brain in preparation for more complex learning.
- Pushing academics too early and ignoring the incredible impact of nurturing relationships and play can be detrimental.
Play provides the optimal chance to develop these higher level brain skills. Activities like doing paper and pencil tasks, rote memorization or flash cards do not offer the same possibility to develop the imagination area of the brain.
Offering varied activities for play and exploring with real objects, people, and nature gives the brain the ability to pretend and to gain an understanding about how the world works. These types of experiences add to developing essential brain connections and contribute to the knowledge needed for the process of creativity and problem solving.
Additionally, creativity occurs when the brain is in a relaxed state. A lack of stress and over-stimulation, allows children to open their mind to combine what is already known with new information. Young brains are then able to generate new thoughts and ideas.
It is extremely difficult to continuously hear stories about how frequently academics are pushed on children at younger and younger ages. Recently I was told of a mother that was relieved to find a preschool that taught spelling for her 2 ½ year old daughter. Another example is, a 3 year old boy received an “incomplete” with a red sad face drawn by the teacher on his worksheet because he didn't write all of the letter E’s that he was instructed to write. These are minor in comparison to the experiences far too many children face daily. These types of occurrences contribute to the alarming number of children that are being prescribed psychiatric drugs for anxiety.
According to Jane Healy, a well-respected educational psychologist, “Early childhood programs that implement a directed academic curriculum often replace essential, hands-on learning activities with skill-based performance and rote-learning tasks. In doing so, they risk the developmental growth necessary for children’s future academic success.”
I find it very difficult to comprehend that science provides knowledge beyond anything we have previously known to demonstrate what developing children need most, and yet there continues to be a disconnect between this understanding and practice in far too many situations.
Through sharing this type of information, it is my hope that EVERYONE will finally understand how children’s brains develop best. Because, when children are engaged in play it is almost like you can see the millions of brain connections being made every second!
Children just naturally want to explore, spin, pretend, run, pour, skip, create, imagine, pound, throw, squish, hop, sing, and figure out the world. They are doing exactly what their growing brain needs. Understanding adults just need to provide plenty of wonderful opportunities for this to occur, then not get in the way and provide caring support when needed.
Most importantly, play allows children the freedom to be themselves! It really isn't complicated is it?
Play is simply one of the essential aspects of Neuro-Nurturing young children!
Neuro-Nurturing shares the invaluable understanding that a well-developed brain allows the unique essence of a child’s heart to shine.
Click Here to download a printable to share: Neuro-Nurturing with Play!
If you are interested in further information to share toward making a difference for children, I invite you to check out Neuro-Nurturing for the World!