It’s not just common knowledge, research confirmed this as well: play is essential for learning. And actually play is the best method of learning! Why spending time learning when you could actually play (and learn)? Play involves creativity. Play involved imagination. In the eyes of a young child, running, pretending, building are all fun activities and way of expression yourself. An more academic definition from Beverlie Dietze and Diane Kashin in Playing and Learning in Early Childhood Education is Play is active, child-initiated, process oriented, intrinsic, episodic, rule-governed, and symbolic.
Play is a fundamental right of every child. This was actually recognised by the United Nations in 1989. Children need the freedom to explore and play. Play also contributes to brain development. There is a false mainstream sense that playing and learning are two clear-cut concepts. Unfortunately the pressure of modern society on delivering results, filling assessments, tests preparations affects the amount of time children spend playing, and consequently learning. This is counter-intuitive and counterproductive. See this research article from David Elki, The Power of Play, Learning that Comes Naturally, 2008, University of Illinois.
Play means pleasure; and learning can be pleasure. Play is intrinsically motivated, there is no goal to fulfil, only a sense of freewill. Play is spontaneous and voluntary and void of any external pressure to deliver results. This is why flashcards and educational toys are artifice. They mislead and push children in a learning activity while giving a false sense of play. Childhood play develops all soft skills strongly needed later on during adult life such as problem solving, language acquisition, literacy, numeracy and social, physical, and emotional intelligence.
It reminds me of a great quote from O. Fred Donaldson, author of “Playing by Heart”
“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.”