As a long-practicing early childhood educator, every day I see my children benefit from play. I see understandings emerge as they build with blocks. I witness daily the social maturation as the children plan and play together. I watch them strengthen their bodies and coordination as they play outside on the playground. But it was hard for me to explain what I see with any authority.
From the research paper, “The Role of Pretend Play in Children’s Cognitive Development” by Doris Bergen at Miami University (2002), I acquired the missing piece in my understanding. Here I learned the why of the importance of play. Bergen’s paper explains that neural-developmentally, as young children are at a crucial stage of growth in language and cognition, their capacity for pretend play is developing in tandem. Researchers suggest the possibility pretend play develops as the vehicle through which language and cognition are educated at this stage of development.
While educators focus on enriching children’s language and cognitive experiences, so should we place equal emphasis enriching and enabling their play experiences.