“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
Children naturally love to play. Babies engage in play as early as two months old. By that age, they are able to recognize facial expressions and will begin to socialize in their own way, which is their earliest form of play. Play is how children learn, and it is important to allow our children to play in their own way. This means providing them with time and space to explore their surroundings. There is so much in our environment that is interesting to a child, whether it is age appropriate open-ended toys, every day household items, craft materials, or even items found in nature.
This article on Aeon.com states:
"A child learns by constructing a theory of the world and testing it against experience. In this sense, children are little scientists – they hypothesize on the basis of observations, test their hypotheses experimentally, and then revise their views in light of the evidence they gather."
Due to their naturally inquisitive nature, when children play they are thinking like a scientist: manipulating, tinkering, experimenting, failing, tweaking and doing it over again until they get the results they were looking for or have solved the problem. Sometimes, they may not even have a problem to solve, but rather experiment purely for fun. Unbeknownst to the child, trial and error during a simple play session is helping them to build the skills to use creative solutions to solve more complex problems later in life.
Play isn't just the work of childhood. Many inventions have been the direct result of play. Here are two interesting examples!
Stanford bioengineers were inspired by a simple toy called the whirligig. Using the same idea, they have developed an inexpensive, human-powered blood centrifuge that will enable diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening diseases like malaria and tuberculosis in poor, remote regions where these diseases are most prevalent.
Inspired by toys he built in his childhood, Dutch-Afghan inventor Massoud Hassani’s wind-powered "Mine Kafon" meaning "mine exploder" in Dari, resembles a large, mechanical tumbleweed and costs under $50 to make, is capable of safely detonating up to four mines in one journey.
This article in the NY Times summed play up perfectly:
"We take it for granted that young children “get into everything.” But new studies of “active learning” show that when children play with toys they are acting a lot like scientists doing experiments. Preschoolers prefer to play with the toys that will teach them the most, and they play with those toys in just the way that will give them the most information about how the world works."