The last transdisciplinary skill in the last is the most challenging, which is why I’ve left it to the end. Why is it the most challenging? Because it covers a lot of ground, and its usefulness is contested despite evidence that it is in fact one of the most productive activities children engage in, and one adults should indulge in more often.
For as long as humans have existed, they have engaged in play. Children play to learn about the world and to learn how to express themselves and connect with others. And play is usually thought of as the purview of children. The more imaginative and experimental the play, the younger we expect the participating child to be. No one has told them what can and cannot be, and so they imagine what they think could be. They aren’t shackled by rules, tropes, or understood formalities. They just see what’s in front of them and turn it into whatever fits what they’re doing. It sometimes leads to bizarre questions and side trips to very disturbing lands, but they’re simply exploring possibilities. That’s why play is so important- it’s that opportunity for children to exercise their imagination and develop curiosity and creativity on their own terms. It plants the seeds for future innovation and creativity.
“play is fundamental”, popular in Montessori curricula and children’s museums, summarizes the idea that through play children learn about the world around them, in the process developing their own personal meanings and understandings. When we play, whether in games or in leisure-time activities, we learn from those around us as well as from what we are doing. If we make a mistake in play, we take our lesson and move on. If another makes a mistake in play, we learn from their mistake and try not to make the same mistake. It’s a freeing experience where we can make our mistakes and interact with each other in a non-threatening environment.
But when we fill a child’s schedule with too many structured activities, we’re really robbing them of the time to be kids. They get no time to just play, and so they don’t learn the skills that come along with play- creative thinking, storytelling, social skills, problem solving, design. They don’t get to have the experiences and form the memories that will shape and inform their adulthood. I’d even argue that they lose the opportunity to develop empathy because they don’t experience what it means to simply be at a time in their life when they’re learning what life is.