Play's the Thing for Young Children: An Exploration at Sarah Lawrence College

Pursuing a trend that bucks the prevailing practice of imposing structured learning environments on younger and younger children at the cost of free, imaginative play, Sarah Lawrence College’s Child Development Institute developed a new week-long program called “Play’s the Thing: Facilitating Play for Young Children,” which took place June 16 to 20.

During this intensive week, participants considered play as an essential aspect of development for all children as well as an important therapeutic tool for young people with particular needs. The curriculum related to a number of highly visible or emerging issues such as the reauthorization or termination of the No Child Left Behind law, urban planning, environmental concerns, and children on the Autistic spectrum.

Participants in the program included early childhood teachers, parks department personnel, representatives of children’s museums, playground designers and builders, social workers and play therapists. They examined a variety of distinct contexts for facilitating play – through direct work with children in various settings, design of physical spaces for play, as well as through advocacy for play-enhancing policies and practices. Discussing, observing and recording children’s play was an integral part of the curriculum and was complemented by exploration of the roles of adults and how they interact with young children to facilitate their play.

“This is an arena where many professions and social constituencies intersect,” said Rachel Grob, Director of the Child Development Institute and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies at Sarah Lawrence. “Together we will continue to seek a better understanding what adults can do to facilitate children’s ability to play without interference or unnecessary restrictions.”