Blogger Kathia Ibacache

Playtime in the Preschool Years

Playtime in the preschool years is paramount for children’s motor, social, and emotional development. Then why has it become second place to academic learning of basic kindergarten curriculum?

Boy on top of a tree


Is playtime devalued in the U.S.? As a children’s librarian you might have come across a well-intended caregiver who was looking for a book to teach a preschooler to read. Valeri Strauss, an education writer for the Washington Post, refers to a report, which states that learning to read in the preschool years or even in Kindergarten shows no indication of school readiness and success for the future. On the contrary, there is extensive research asserting that playtime in the preschool years is of utmost importance for the development of a well-rounded child. A child might know the ABC’s, numbers, colors, and nonetheless fall apart completely when faced with a disappointment because that child has not developed preschool age emotional intelligence that would empower conflict resolution skills.

Are caregivers forgetting that children learn pivotal skills through playing?

Playtime and the Librarian

As a number of nature programs are taking children outside the library during summer reading programs, consider sharing with caregivers the benefits of playtime, not as a parent regulated safe concept, but as an open ended source of exploration, creativity, and emotional inspection. Here children learn social skills, conflict resolution skills, to self-regulate, to adapt as a team member, to develop resilience, leadership skills and empathy, to respect rules, and create new ones. As a whole, through playing, children learn how to be a member of a community.

Elements of Playtime

The Center for Childhood Creativity provides information on different types of playtime:

  • Solitary play: Child plays alone, yet still learning essential skills such as self-regulation and the ability to self-entertain. This is valuable playtime not only for children, but also their caregivers, who have a window to do other chores.
  • Unoccupied play: Child is using this time to observe.
  • Group or cooperative play: Children play together and set their own rules. Here, children are learning how to exist within a society and establish personal boundaries. They are learning problem solving techniques when they quarrel, and to value the team’s input as a follower or a leader.
  • Process play: Is open-ended and exploratory. The process is more relevant than the end product.
  • Child-directed play: A child plays with a passive adult setting the rules and leading the play. Here children learn self-regulation and confidence.
  • Other variations:
    • Role play: Children play kitchen, mommy and daddy, etc.
    • Risky play: Children climb a tree.
    • Aggressive play: Children wrestling. Here children learn self-control and boundaries

Elements of Playtime Inside the Library

What about risky play inside the library? The Center for Childhood Creativity advises to use non-judgmental language to communicate with children. Therefore, if you witness wrestling inside the library, you can address this type of play as “I notice you are wrestling like the Ancient Greeks.”This conversation starter might bring the wrestling to a rest inside the building. You are avoiding judgment into an activity that children might feel drawn to do at the same time as opening dialogue and redirecting the children to conclude that it might be a better idea to wrestle in the grass.

Conversation Starters

I Notice…     Tell me more about…   I wonder…

According to the Center for Childhood Creativity, the idea behind these conversation starters is to acknowledge without judgement, show interest, and motivate children to convey their idea. Furthermore, through language that opens a path for further conversation, a librarian sparks cognition in children and builds a relationship of care.

The Center for Childhood Creativity provides guidelines for school readiness in the preschool years.

  • Always use new and proper vocabulary even with non-verbal children. For example, refer to the “stomach” instead of the “tummy.”
  • Pretend play helps children see other people’s perspectives.
  • Hands-on activities enhance children’s creativity, curiosity, and desire to explore.
  • Use playtime to strengthen cognitive development using opposites and comparing of objects: big-small; far-near; less-more, for example.
  • Practice empathy and help children feel safe when faced with a stressful event acknowledging their resilience.

Is your library ready for playtime?

Kathia Ibacache is a Youth Services Librarian


This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group and III. Programming Skills.

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