Holistic benefits of play in the classroom article among the journal’s best in 2019

An article highlighting the importance of play in a child’s education and development selected as the 2019 Most Outstanding Article by journal.

AcademicPlay2Incorporating play into academics during early childhood creates emotional memories, help define who we are today and create culture connections.A common discussion within the education field centers around the amount of play that is included in early educational years. A University of Alabama at Birmingham article, “Childhood Remembered: Reflections on the Role of Play for Holistic Education in Armenia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the USA, and Wales,” identified three themes from research on the importance of incorporating play into the classroom. The paper was recognized as the 2019 Most Outstanding Article for the International Journal of the Whole Child.  

The themes identified by investigators from the UAB School of Education are:

  • the development of deep and long-lasting emotional memories in the early years;
  • a perception of things learned through play that exist and help define who we are today; and
  • cultural connections that bind our personas to our lived experiences.

“Our team began by looking at the potential and traditional developmental and academic benefits of play,” said James Ernest, Ph.D., professor in the UAB Department of Curriculum and Instruction. “This helped us to develop an argument focusing on the less common considerations of the holistic benefit of play.”

Investigators explored teachers’ cultural reflections about the nature and worth of play through personal accounts of playful childhood in Armenia, Great Britain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United States.  

“The question becomes how can academics be worked into play,” Ernest said.

The article found that the value of play is part of a whole child education in terms of emotional experiences, holistic education and cultural connections. The article encourages educators, specifically principals and administrators, to implement scheduling to safeguard flexibility throughout the day for play. 

If teachers use a play-based approach to introduce young children into a classroom that mirrors home life or a community play-based child care, some children may be less likely to develop the strong negative emotions toward schooling. As many reflections in the article indicate, initial emotions to a first day or week of school are lasting memories that can shape perceptions of school.

“We all come from different backgrounds having experienced play in different forms,” Ernest said. “As teachers, interpreting our past experiences and how we feel about play today can help inform how we nurture our children’s development.”

Play is an integral part of lived experience whether it is indoors or outdoors, structured or not. Playing teaches the power of diversity and the importance of accountability, according to investigators. The challenge is how to capitalize on both in a demanding era.

“It is important that as adults we remember the value of play as central to working through emotions, being aware of who we are as women and men, and forging cultural connections to our past,” Ernest said. “Early childhood is a formative period of development, and play is not just an integral mechanism for learning academics but essential to more holistic learning and development.”

Authors include Amy Nicholas, CEO of Axon Industries and a Ph.D. student at UAB; Shushanik Vardanyan, a former Ph.D. student at UAB; Mohammad Alazemi, a Ph.D. student at UAB; Dorielle Dixon, Ph.D., a first grade teacher at Pleasant Grove Elementary; and Fatimah Hafiz, a Ph.D. student at UAB.