Education Cheat Sheet: The Power of Play

Don’t put off playtime! Here is why we should all take it seriously for our kids.


Editor’s Note: It has occurred to me that one of my most common answers to my daughters is “later.” When we’re cleaning the house, cooking or doing chores, they often ask if we can play. Later, I usually say. Although learning responsibilities is an important part of growing up, exploring through play is also an essential, and fun, part of childhood development. Hanahau‘oli School’s Lia Woo has more.


Photo: Courtesy of Hanahau‘oli School


As the head of an elementary school, I think about children and childhood extensively. I also think about my childhood and how I would play for hours in my room, running a pretend bookstore or reading aloud to my well-behaved and attentive class of stuffed animals. I think about my daughters today and how much joy they experience when creating an original play, complete with costumes and music, on an easy Sunday afternoon or catching a “party wave” in the Kailua shore break. I think about how my 9-year-old plays with my iPhone camera, working with different modes to create a great photo.


I also think about how difficult childhood is today. The accelerated and overscheduled pace of life, the intense expectations (which, for kids, often result in equally intense feelings of anxiety, fear and stress), the easy access to disturbing and inappropriate content, the public nature of social dynamics and the sometimes debilitating worry of parents that children cannot recover from feelings of disappointment, loss and failure.


At times it feels society fails to protect childhood. Exacerbating irony is the fact that recent research tells us so much more about the importance of this time in child development. Schools must intervene and persist in honoring our children’s younger years as its own distinct stage of life and valuing play as a child’s work.


I advocate that schools and parents take play seriously. In play, children explore their curiosities, develop initiative and problem-solving skills. They practice focusing attention and persisting in pursuit of their own ideas and goals. They learn to communicate, compromise, cooperate, empathize and self-regulate. They take risks, imagine, and most importantly, find and experience joy. It is also important for parents to join in. Observing and participating in play with our children helps us continually understand who they are, their unique interests and talents, humor and sensitivities, not to mention it brings us joy.


I hope the resources shared lead to many more minutes of reflective thought regarding how to prioritize play.


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Lia Woo draws upon her 15+ years of experience in education, specializing in curriculum and educational technology, to lead Hanahau‘oli School. Woo views learning as a source of inspiration and a means to intentional positive change.