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It's Time to Play! Why Summer Play Matters

July 1, 2021
Imaginative and creative play is important for every child. Having fun exploring and discovering their world whether indoors or outdoors is essential in developing the foundation for social, emotional, and cognitive skills.
In fact, play is a child's work. 
~Dr. Donna Housman
 Founder of Housman Institute and creator of begin to ECSEL

At long last we can finally step outside and play! Everyone deserves this time to play. For children who have been confined to tight social bubbles, pods, and small circles at best, or in most cases just screens, to visit with friends and family - playtime is long overdue. We need to get out to play... and play together. Although we all worry about learning loss, especially after this year, children’s socialization through summer play is more important now than ever. Anna North’s recent article for Vox, “What American Kids Need This Summer” discusses how children need to be with other children this summer, quoting Denise Pope, “‘they need to practice those really, really important social skills, communication skills, friendship-building skills,’ which are important not just for mental health and well-being, but for learning as well.” 

As young children grow, they need opportunities to interact with others through play, but this year has limited these opportunities and even changed what play looks like. As summer days let us head outside, we can rediscover the important lessons that just playing can bring. For many, summer is a time with the freedom to build confidence in meeting new people, trying new things, learning new skills, exploring nature, experimenting with new ideas, being curious and creative, and heading out into the world to discover, even if that world is just the backyard. Summer play can and should also provide the opportunity to develop critical social and emotional competencies that were shut off this past year. 

While summer play can offer so many new experiences for children - discovering what lives in nature, creative art projects, playing and moving to music, learning to swim, playing a sport, learning to read, experimenting with science… play can also build key foundational emotional competencies. Playing, building, creating, exploring, and learning with others helps children build self-confidence, make friends, learn how to communicate, and problem-solve, share and develop empathy, and express themselves through newfound interests. Summer play can instill important growth opportunities for children to carry forward into the rest of their lives. When they do head back to school (or go to school for the very first time), the lessons and skills they gained by engaging in different kinds of summer play will head to school with them. They will have a foundation to build upon to engage with others, feel confident in making friends and experiencing new “adventures”. Play opens children’s worlds and gives them a sense of freedom and security to discover, grow their imaginations, work together, explore the world around them, and most importantly, to just have fun - and don’t we all deserve some fun? In fact, be sure you are a part of that fun - you’ve earned it too!

Whether a teacher or a parent, here are some fun activities to engage in with young learners at school, at camp, or at home:

  • Encourage children to explore the world around them. Take a nature hike outside and create collection bags. Photograph what you see around you. Bring the bags back inside and create a mural with the items collected designed by the children themselves. Discuss what they observed on the hike: what did you see? What did you hear? What did you touch? What did you smell? Create sensory bags with different textures from your nature hike. 
  • Grow your own butterfly farm. Encourage children to make hypotheses and record or draw their observations. When the butterflies hatch, bring them outdoors and release them back into nature. 
  • Engage in water play. Put out sprinklers and water tables and let children run wild. Let the water pool on the pavement and create a boat out of sticks. See how many objects you can put in the boat until it sinks. Talk about currents and water flow. Better yet, allow children to lead you in their play and encourage them to create the rules. This is their summer play, after all! 
  • Who doesn’t love popsicles in the summertime? Collect each of the popsicle sticks in a jar. When you have enough, count them all. Support children in brainstorming what they can do with the popsicle sticks. Can you paint them? Can you glue them? What can you make? Divide into teams and have groups of children work together to create something unique. After executing their vision, have each team share their creation with the group. 
  • Read a favorite fairytale and act it out. Have children decide their role and act out the parts. Support them in designing their very own set and costumes. Play a song and have them write the lyrics. Turn your fairytale into a musical where children have the opportunity to work together towards a mutual goal, act out different roles, learn from one another, and feel proud at the end result. 

One of the best things about being a child is that you can play anywhere, learn anywhere, and explore and discover what is right under your own feet - everything is new, and everything helps you grow. Let’s grow together this summer and have some fun. 

Play is key to helping children build important social skills. They learn to play with others, build friendships and empathy as they develop relationships, and begin to understand the experiences and feelings of others. With the guidance of parents and/or teachers as facilitators in extending their child’s imaginative play, children establish a foundation of independence. They gain the knowledge that their ideas are valued and are valuable. They can learn to work out stressful situations to a successful conclusion. All necessary in dealing with everyday challenges and stresses and more than ever in today's world.”

~Dr Donna Housman


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