“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.”

If you grew up during the 70s, 80s, and 90s, you probably remember Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the nationally recognized preschool television program. This quote above about play, from Mister Rogers himself, applies to the work being done at each of United Inner City Services (UICS) early childhood education centers today. 

UICS recognizes that in order to help students develop the skills necessary to advance to kindergarten, they need to learn by experience. This is why play is so important to the UICS educational experience.

“All humans, and animals honestly, want to play when they’re young. That is an opportunity for them to get their energy out, which they are so full of at this age. But, it’s also an opportunity to build social and emotional skills by interacting with other children.” according to UICS-St. Mark Center Early Learning and Inclusion Director, Raina Davis.

Giving students time to play, either inside or weather permitting, on the outdoor playground, helps to build skills of coordination, cooperation, and self-regulation. When playing with other students, children have to learn to be patient, wait their turn, and be kind to one another. And while running and jumping outside contributes to a child’s physical development, it still ties into social/emotional development.

UICS Training and Curriculum Manager, Merrill Hunt adds, “People sometimes misunderstand preschool as just play, but during the earliest years of childhood, play IS work and students are learning so many things at this time with teacher facilitation”

The State of Missouri requires accredited child care providers to allow children a minimum of one hour of physical activity, whether that be indoors or on an outdoor playground. This time gives children not only the opportunity to “get their wiggles out”, but also learn by the classic method of freestyle trial and error: through interactions with peers, interactions with teachers, and interactions with the world around them.

“Being outside allows students to explore the environment – when they’re out on the playground, they see planes, and birds, and squirrels. One day, I was in a toddler classroom when a squirrel came up to the window, and one of the students asked ‘Where is the squirrel going? Where does the squirrel live?’ These questions are exposed, because they see these things outside and want to know more.” says Raina.

So, next time you hear children yelling, balls bouncing, tricycles rolling around, or tiny feet hitting the ground, remember: play is FUN-damental and helps every child develop the skills needed to learn about their world and their future.