Kindergarten play is much more than just frivolous fun. It seems to predict whether children will become active citizens and leaders of tomorrow.
A recent study conducted by the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University followed 22,782 students from kindergarten through to Grade 8. Researchers were looking for elements of early learning and classroom behavior that might predict civic engagement later in life.
They were specifically looking at measures concerning two factors in kindergarten: executive function and play. Then they examined how these factors predicted student participation in extracurricular activities in Grade 8. (Other research has already shown that teens who participate in school activities are more likely to be active later as adults in volunteering, voting, and reaching out to public officials.)
Researchers found that kindergarten children with greater executive function were more likely to participate in music clubs, sports, and drama later. Similarly, participation in classroom-based play was also a significant predictor of their involvement in middle school.
Playing with art supplies, theatre props, and musical instruments in kindergarten apparently predicted whether kids played sports in Grade 8.
At a time when some parents and education pundits are pushing for more academic focus in the early years, the Steinhardt study helps to remind us that play is one of the most important learning experiences we can give our children.