For kids, it’s never ‘just playing’


Recently, the Arapahoe County Early Childhood Council held its annual Quality Forum, a day of learning and professional development for early childhood. This year, we focused on the importance of play in a young child’s life.

When young children play, they are never “just playing.” They are building social skills, learning how to communicate, and pushing the limits of their imagination and creativity.

Most of our essential brain and neural development occurs in the first three years of life, before children ever enter the formal education system. Two-year-olds can’t exactly study emotional regulation in a classroom, but, in play, they learn how to cooperate, follow rules and develop self-control. When kids learn these fundamental life lessons at a young age, they are far more capable of overcoming future hardships in life. Letting kids play sets them up with success.

As Fred Rogers once said: “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

ACECC’s keynote speaker this year was Jim Gill, a nationally recognized musician and child development specialist. Jim’s talk, “A Joyous Way to Learn,” was all about using music and play to promote social skills, literacy, math development and more. Beyond learning about the importance of play, forum participants came away with key skills and ideas that they could use immediately.

Recently, new findings came out around the 1960s Perry Preschool Project. In the original project, children from low-income households were enrolled in high-quality preschool programs. Researchers found that these kids came away with a host of social and economic benefits. They had better social and emotional skills, they were more likely to earn a high school diploma, they had less trouble with the law, they earned more money, and they even had more stable long-term relationships. Now, many of these children are in their mid-50s, and we can see their own children reaping the benefits of their early childhood programs.

Quality early childhood programs teach through play, offering nurturing and enriching environments for kids to grow. This is why we chose to focus on the importance of play at our Quality Forum this year. When we give our early childhood professionals the tools and support to be successful, kids in Arapahoe County reap the benefits.

Gretchen Davidson is the executive director of the Arapahoe County Early Childhood Council, a collaborative promoting high-quality programs and services which support a safe, smart and healthy start for young children and their families. For more information, get in touch at


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