My wife and I read to each other when we take trips in the car. We’ve read all of the Harry Potter books and numerous novels. This last weekend, on a trip to Chicago, we read Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul* by Stuart Brown, M.D.
This very readable book is a comprehensive review of the nature of play (even in the animal world) and its inarguable benefits for not just the young, but for adults. As we read, I found myself nodding in gratitude to Dr. Brown and agreeing with his major premise: At any age, regular play is good for all of us, in any circumstance. Indeed, it is critical for children’s cognitive development and for adults’ mental health.
Given this premise, my wife and I, two lifelong educators, are appalled by the removal of play from school at every level and the co-opting of play time by well-meaning parents who organize the fun and play clear out of sports and so many other extra-curricular activities for kids.
THAT brings me to my main point, which is the relationship that children develop very early on with books. Of course, “Read to the Children” should be chiseled in stone and daily reading with children from birth forward is a tenet to which we should hold firm. However, a prescribed daily reading time shouldn’t serve as the only time that children engage with books.
In praise of plastic and board books that invite the awkward, rough-handling and abundant saliva of little ones, I submit that books must, in the consciousness of babies, also be categorized as playthings, as toys.
Why? Because it is in the opportunities for puzzlement and validation in play that the strength of creativity, problem solving and cognitive structures across all domains of life are formed. Typically, books are brought to small children, shared with them and then put them back on the shelf, often out of reach. I wish that weren’t so. Rather, I wish children also are offered the opportunity to learn that books in their chubby hands provide them with a mental sand box, an invitation to make up things for themselves, of not just the physical books used like blocks or as tents for play figures, but also as a spur for creativity based upon their conceptions of what books mean to their family, what book illustrations contain, and what books can mean, even when they only contain pictures.
While play is deemed the work of childhood, Dr. Brown also insists that play is not the opposite of work. It should be understood as a part of life for all ages. Learning to play and to be playful in all things clearly creates a foundation for the good life. Books and reading should be established as sources of such delight from life’s very beginnings.
Read and play every day!