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The Value of Play

By Karen Taylor

I was recently browsing through a wonderful book called The Home Educator: A guide for the mothers of young children. It’s not a new book; it is the 1931 edition of a book first published in 1923 that my grandmother used when raising her children!

I’ve had this book for over 30 years. It has an ornate cover and I’ve enjoyed looking at it on my bookshelf, but because old books are an allergy trigger for me, it sat unread. I was weeding my book collection when I picked it up with the intent to perhaps sell it. I was so excited with what I read that I decided it’s a keeper!

The title interested me, since it is a reminder that 90 years ago, mothers were recognized as their child’s first teacher. Thumbing through it, I came across a section discussing the latest theory of play, and I was immediately hooked! This pre-school parenting book says that play is a biological need and that it stimulates growth.  How interesting that current researchers are coming to the same conclusion today!

Since many of today’s parents feel pressured to begin early academics, I searched for ways to teach the alphabet or numbers, and wondered what I would find. Instead of ABC tips, I found suggestions for helping a child grow socially and emotionally, and lots of suggestions for toys and activities for inside and outside play – similar to what recommends!

The suggested toys could be used in multiple ways (blocks, wagons, empty spools and twine, trains, dolls, spoons, pails and more).  There were toy ideas for the imagination, and also for working big muscles. Many of the toys were designed to give the child exercise and coordination practice (balancing and jumping boards and other physical toys).

I kept on browsing and finally found a chapter on teaching the “Three R’s” toward the end of the book. The authors recommended that reading instruction wait until after 6 and no earlier than 7 for writing. Teaching a child early was discouraged:

“Whatever time a child gives to one activity means that much taken from some other. The years under six are most valuable years for the getting of all sorts of vital experiences which will enrich the whole later life. . . .it seems too bad to rob the child of any of his time by formal studies under six, or sometimes seven.”

What amazing words of wisdom. Instead of teaching too early, it was recommended that the child get firsthand knowledge of nature and to experience life. That is still sound advice today!

I’m excited to see that what my grandma learned about parenting is the same that modern researchers are finding, so many years later. Young children learn best by playing.

This book is a treasure, and I love it for its content as well as knowing it was my grandmother’s. However, for day-to-day use,  I’d recommend a newer book that won’t make you sneeze!  The new Home Preschool Curriculum by Fran Wisniewski and Diane Flynn Keith is the most recent one I’ve read, and it’s loaded with practical tips, games, and art that will productively fill your days with a preschooler.

Play has clearly stood the test of time, and is increasingly recognized as being the most important activity for preschoolers.  It worked for my grandmother’s three children, and for my two now grown kids, and it will work for your little ones!

If you have any questions about your personal situation, please contact me!  I can be reached by email at


*Karen Taylor provides regular homeschooling information and mentoring on Facebook and she is the director of Cedar Life Academy, a Private School Satellite Program (PSP) for homeschoolers in California.

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