Playing: A Missing Ingredient in Schools


I found the following poem on the wall of an examination room in a pediatrician’s office:
I tried to teach my child with books.
He gave me only puzzled looks.

I tried to teach my child with words.
They passed him by often unheard.

Despairingly, I turned aside.
"How shall I teach this child?" I cried.

Into my hand, he put the key.
"Come," he said, "Play with me."

Playing is practice made fun! Playing is the primary method that children practice all kinds of personal and social skills. We program our unconscious minds with thought patterns, emotional habits and behaviors that we have repeatedly practiced. In English, we call that "learning."

Children love to play. Interactive playing with others is fun. It is also necessary for socialization to occur. When children play with others, they learn to: "take turns;" wait for their turn; share with others; give and receive; hold hands; consider others; imitate what they observe; follow the leader; play by the rules; and many other socializing behaviors.

Today, playing by interacting with others has been minimized. Kids play with television screens; wireless phones; video games; internet postings; chat rooms; and very little direct personal interaction. The process of playing…so important to the psychological and social health of children…has been confined to interacting with inanimate objects, fantasies, and "pretend" people and situations. Is it any wonder that we have generations of adults who are unskilled at positive, satisfying interpersonal skills?

In many schools, the fun has been taken out of learning. Learning seems to have been paired with "work," not play. "Homework." "Schoolwork." "Labwork." "Fieldwork." On the second day of kindergarten, my son came home with a note pinned to his shirt. It read, "Todd refuses to sit down and do his work." From that day forward, I began to see his excitement diminish about going to school.

Work is not conducive to learning. Playing is. Whatever happened to "P.E.?" What ever happened to playing a musical instrument? Whatever happened to playing educational games with other people?

If we want our children to develop positive character qualities such as honesty, responsibility, dependability, compassion, attentiveness, creativity, enthusiasm, gratefulness, generosity, honor and initiative, we must engage our children in play that requires these qualities to be practiced. As adults, we need to interact with one another in playful ways that allow us to be an example of these character qualities we want our children to playfully practice. If we try to teach them only by words and books, they will never learn them.

If, however, they observe us playing, and we engage them in our play, the next generation might learn positive interactive skills that will serve them very well throughout their lives.

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Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D., has 30+ years experience as a Life Coach and Licensed Psychologist. He is available for coaching in any area presented in "Practical Psychology." As your Coach, his only agenda is to assist you in creating the lifestyle you genuinely desire. The initial coaching session is free. Contact him at 970.568.0173 or e-mail Visit the website To subscribe to his weekly column, Practical Psychology, e-mail your request to: and write "subscribe" in the subject line and an "X" in the body. Copyright



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