The one-year-old plays constantly. Navigating the world in the way they know how, most everything they do involves play: eating, exploring, interacting. There is an interesting pattern among one-to-two year olds. They will choose an object, examine it for awhile, and then find as many uses for it as possible, using it as a hat, a plane, something to balance on, something to throw or kick, something to make noise with, and something to show to adults. By doing this, the toddler is conducting a series of experiments with every object they encounter. How can one say that this play is not beneficial?
The three-year-old has a wild and vivid imagination. Running around with a blanket tied around their neck like a cape, they battle monsters, climb mountains, escape from prisons, and ultimately defeat the bad guys. Young preschoolers can create worlds on their own, or in groups. They collaborate to create rules, use props, and make pathways in their fantasy world games. Or they may use toys (stuffed animals, plastic figures, or dolls) to be a part of their invented world. Three year olds do not need the help of adults, story books, or pre-written ideas to create worlds, games, and adventures.
The four-year-old continues to imagine, but they have entered a world of building and inventing, making something tangible, something material. Pre-kindergarteners use toys, blocks, legos, and any resources they can get their hands on to create, create, create. Making plans, houses, zoos, and eventually acting out the worlds in which these things exist.
The adult looks to this play, recognizing their children’s happiness, their imagination, their immaturity. Many adults do not recognize what children are learning through their play, what skills they are developing, and how impressive their imaginative worlds are. Most of us have lost this approach to learning by the time we hit puberty. As we move further and further away from our once imaginative, playful selves, we lose the knowledge of the value of play.
Children help me to step into their worlds of imagination and play. They show me how to create and imagine again. I am able to let go of my day-to-day stresses and get lost in their world. Moments of clarity come while I am with children. I realize how insignificant some of my worries are, how magical and bright the world can be when viewed from a child’s eyes, and how much there is to explore and learn. I am able to let go of my adult brain riddled with deadlines and worry, and play and experience life, touch and feel what is right in front of me, learn in a pure and simple way, free of complications. I am grateful for the children’s accidental reminders of what is important, what is wondrous, and what I still have to learn.