The Importance of Play and the Cognitive Development of Children

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The Importance of Play and the Cognitive Development of Children Marlene Joy M. Cepeda
Western Governors University

Abstract
The focus on academic success and high assessment scores has led many educators and administrators to perceive play as an unimportant part of a child’s development. But play does lay a good foundation developmentally for children. Through each different types of play, a child develops the necessary skills in order to succeed. When children are given opportunities to play, they develop the connections and experiences they will use to help them succeed academically.

Since the No Child Left Behind Act was created in 2001, schools have shifted their focus onto academics and achieving high scores for standardized tests. This focus on academics has led many administrators and parents to perceive play as unimportant for children ages birth and five years old. Even though play may seem unimportant to those outside early childhood education, it creates a solid foundation for the child’s cognitive development and future academic success.

In 2001, the United States Senate and House of Representatives passed the No Child Left Behind Act that would change the way schools addressed academics. Schools had to focus on ensuring all students were able to perform and were meeting the state academic standards. Kysilka (2003) wrote “the purpose of the No Child Left Behind Act was to hold schools, local educational agencies and States accountable for improving the academic achievement of all students and identifying and turning around low-performing schools that have failed to provide a high-quality education to their students, while providing alternatives to students in such schools to enable the students to receive a high-quality education” (Kysilka, 2003, p. 100). Since schools and administrators are being held to a standard, parents are looking at these scores to see if the child succeeds or fails. The focus shifting primarily on academics means the time for play is cut short during school hours if not completely removed. More recently, due to state and national emphasis on proficiency text performance, even the small segments of social pretend play time that have been allowed (if not encouraged) in school, such as kindergarten “choice” time and recess breaks are disappearing (Bergen, 2002). Bergen (2002) writes “the press for “academic readiness” through concentrated and direct teaching of alphabet, number, color, and other skills is now affecting the amount of time allocated for play in preschools” (Bergen, 2002, Challenges and Policy Directions suggested by Recent Research, para. 1). Kindergarten classes now are focused on ensuring their students are prepared academically. Instead of allowing the child to develop naturally, schools are now primarily emphasizing on the academics. Kindergarten students are no longer being taught the basics, like the alphabets, colors, or numbers. Kindergarten students are now taught to read simple words and do more reading and writing in class. Three- and four-year-olds are now expected to engage in far more early writing and reading activities than ever before (Almon, n.d). Kindergarten programs in the U.S. focus so strongly on teaching literacy, numeracy, and other academic subjects that many children no longer have time to play in kindergarten (Almon, n.d.). Play time has become unimportant in the schools. Educational psychologist Anthony Pellegrini writes “for many children, the opportunities for such freely chosen play are narrowing” (as cited in Bergen, 2009, p. 428). Pellegini continues “much of their play time at home has been lost to music, dance, or other lessons; participations on sports teams (using adult defined rules); and afterschool homework or test preparation. At the same time, many schools especially those considered to be poor performers, have reduced or eliminated recess” (as cited in Bergen, 2009, p....
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