Play is learning. As Vygotsky noted, it “contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form and is itself a major source of development.”
Virtually every child, the world over, plays. The drive to play is so intense that children will do so when they have no real toys, when parents do not actively encourage the behavior, and even in the middle of a war zone. In the eyes of a young child, running, pretending, and building are fun. Researchers and educators know that these playful activities benefit the development of the whole child across social, cognitive, physical, and emotional domains. Yet, while experts continue to expound a powerful argument for the importance of play in children’s lives, the actual time children spend playing continues to decrease. Today, children play eight hours less each week than their counterparts did two decades ago . Under pressure of rising academic standards, play is being replaced by test preparation in kindergartens and grade schools, and parents who aim to give their preschoolers a leg up are led to believe that flashcards and educational “toys” are the path to success. Our society has created a false dichotomy between play and learning.