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Why Do We Play?

By BreAnn Fennell

Play is not a break from learning. We can learn through play, and when you look at nature you can see that many animals do just that. Scientists have studied animals and have come to many conclusions that some animals play and learn valuable lessons and sometimes they do it because it is just fun. Picture dogs jumping up and down and pawing at each other after first taking a bow, a kitten batting at its mother’s tail, an elephant sliding down a bank. Researchers have observed herring gulls playing catch and ravens that snowboard, (Goldman, 2013).

Something we can learn from animals in nature is that play is often practice for behavior. Think about your classroom. When we want to review topics and want children to have fun and remember material we play games! Want to give a reward for awesome behavior? Play a game of checkers! Want to build relationships with students? Play some basketball at recess! During the months of distance learning, my students loved playing games to learn. Kahoot! was fun for my students and for me, I used it to review math concepts.

When children are on the playground sometimes we patrol and separate children who are

exploring rough play in elementary. I know my own children do a lot of wrestling and roughhousing at home and I try to discourage this behavior at school because it is not socially acceptable and they may get in trouble for it. Roughhousing is actually great for children’s emotional and physical needs, (Borchard, 2018). As children grow we see the desire to run, jump, tumble (or tackle) and play continue with sports and other outdoor activities. Why do we discourage children from climbing up slides because it is a social rule when it is actually really great for their motor development? Which team are you on? Let Them Climb or Down the Slide Only? Let me know on Twitter @playyay.

When the playgrounds reopened in our town we were full of joy and excitement, but it got me pondering what our playgrounds will look like at school when we return. We know being outside and running around is great for children, but what will it look like with socially distanced rules in place? Will all equipment need to be wiped off after each use? I’m interested to see what this looks like in other places.

Play is a way to relieve stress. Play therapy is on the rise, when students have occupational or physical therapy they play games with them to build on their skills. Adults need play, too. Think about things you do to relieve stress and see if you could build some playful activities into your life. I flew a kite on the beach at sunset and felt so light and free from all the heaviness of the world.

How will you play today?

BreAnn Fennell

Twitter: @playyay

Instagram: @playyayauthor

Facebook: @playyay


BreAnn Fennell is an elementary teacher in Ashland, Ohio. She has her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education with endorsements in Reading and 4-5th Grade. She has a master’s degree in Gifted and Talented Education. Fennell is the mom of two boys. She is a defender of play!

Play? Yay! is a children’s book about using your imagination and how parents should encourage play in their children. You can find a copy of her new book Play? Yay! Baby Talk or Play? Yay!

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