Just Let Them Play: An Alternative Approach to Schooling at Home During the Quarantine

This is an unprecedented opportunity to let children be children.

just let kids play

As a veteran educator with 13 years of classroom experience and a mom of a preschooler, a lot of folks assume I’m using this time to work with my rising kindergartener on readiness skills. I’m not. We’re self-isolating, but you won’t find any alphabet worksheets on my dining room table or math practice apps on my iPad. Nope. We’re too busy riding bikes, coloring, reading books, and playing pretend. And I’m not worried about her “falling behind.” She’s four.

I realize this may not be sustainable if school is canceled for an extended period of time, and that it’s not reasonable for older students, especially those working on graduation requirements. But at the very least for our youngest learners, I propose the following: just let them play.

Childhood is short

You know that viral post that talks about how we only get 18 summers with our kids? I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Childhood is such a special period in life, and not only is it short—you can’t ever get it back. Maybe these school closures are an opportunity for us to reevaluate our priorities. And perhaps we can look at this as a chance not to really nail down that one-to-one correspondence, but to allow kids to be kids.

Play is learning

I’m not just plopping my kid in front of the TV (although there’s probably more of that happening than usual). We’re playing Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, and UNO. We’re putting together puzzles. But a lot of the time, my kid is just on her own, acting out scenes with her dolls and figurines, building with LEGOs, and dressing up as a princess, doctor, or superhero. And that kind of free play is how kids build creativity, motor skills, and decision-making abilities—all precursors to academic learning.

Activities are canceled

In my opinion, kids are overscheduled as it is. But in all likelihood, with all the cancellations, they’re missing their outlets—both physical and artistic. Play provides the much-needed balance kids normally get from extracurriculars. I know in my house, with no Saturday soccer games, tap/ballet class, or playdates, my kid is craving playtime. The last thing she wants to do sit down and practice her letters, and I am loath to make her.

Play is therapeutic

This is a time of great uncertainty and even fear. Many kids are experiencing anxiety around both coronavirus itself as well as the quarantine. Their lives have been turned upside down just as much as ours. Play is an important part of emotional development. It’s associated with emotional resilience, high self-confidence, and reduced anxiety, and has been shown to relieve emotional distress around trauma

It’s parent-friendly

Parents are already stressing over figuring out how to work from home and take care of their kids. Between managing online learning, planning homeschool lessons, and explaining why you carry the one (you just do, OK?!), moms and dads are understandably on edge. So why not take off some of the pressure? Ease up on the academics and let children play as much as possible. And when you’re able, play with them.

Are you pro-play, all academics, or somewhere in between? Share your thoughts on the WeAreTeachers Helpline on Facebook. 

Plus, The Next Weeks of Online Learning Don’t Have to Be Perfect.

Just Let Them Play: An Alternative Approach to Schooling at Home During the Quarantine

Posted by Kimmie Fink

Kimmie is an editor at WeAreTeachers. She has 13 years of classroom teaching experience and a master's degree in curriculum and instruction.

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