Play is Practical

Play is Practical

“Play is essential to education. Play is education for children.”

- Dee Ray, professor of early childhood education and director of the Center for Play Therapy at the University of North Texas College of Education

One reason I left traditional visual art education is that, for kids, making objects of use is a massive part of the creative process, and there just wasn’t much room for that in our standards. In more traditional art education, there is an emphasis on design principles, technique, and aesthetics, all good things to learn. However, my heart is in the practical. For kids, play is practical. Play is the work of childhood. I’m not just talking about preschool-aged kids. Play is and should be central to childhood as long as possible.

At Craftsman & Apprentice, we focus on making objects of play. Since our first Toy Shop camp seven years ago, thousands of children have experienced the joy of creating playthings. We also make sure that they have time to play with one another. This interaction with the things they’ve made is just magic to watch. Even kids as old as 11 get into designing their toys and setting up shop to buy and sell from their buddies. For kids, there’s no separation between the creative work of making and the creative work of play. It’s all fun and games. 

Childhood is a precious time. I’m mourning the end of my kids’ childhoods as they turn 13 and 16 next month. It’s cliche, but it happens so fast. Please let them play, be weird, and walk around with capes and cardboard swords for as long as possible. It will make them better big people. 

Ten Benefits of Creative Play for Elementary-Aged Kids:
Creative Play helps build brains, bodies, and communities
  1. Friendship
  2. Cooperation
  3. Problem-solving
  4. Divergent thinking
  5. Physical fitness
  6. Coordination
  7. Cognitive growth (get those synapses firing!)
  8. Independence
  9. Creativity
  10. Self-advocacy and self-knowledge
Easy Entry Objects of Play:
  • Cardboard anything! Make forts, cars, costumes, tools, etc.
  • (sidebar: I once spent a whole summer reading American Girl books in a cardboard box fort!)
  • One yard of felt can become a cape, a pirate vest, or a knight’s tunic
  • Cardboard tubes: rockets, castle turrets, megaphones, spy glasses, etc. 
  • Transform bottle caps, egg cartons, and corks into products for a pop-up shop.


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