Recently, I started asking a standard question, exactly the same way, to children during their 3 to 10 year old check-ups. This wasn’t premeditated. Like all physicians, I go through phases of what I ask kids to elicit their experiences and beliefs, listen to their language and observe their development. I learn a lot about my patients from what they choose to answer. Both in their receptive language skills (how they understand me) and their expressive skills (how they speak–fluidly, articulately, with sentences) to their cognition (how they understand concepts and theories). No one talks as much when in the exam room as they do at home. Pediatricians know this (of course!), but these questions are a great way to learn a lot about a child’s wellness and get to know my patients. It’s also the part of the day I enjoy the most.

But when I started asking a recent question something became utterly clear. I’d say,

“What do you like to do at home?”

I expected the usual suspects. Things like, “Watch TV,” “Play the DS,”, or “Play with princesses or doll houses.” Not that I expected stereotypes, I just expected specifics. But instead, there has been a uniform, single-word response. Breath-taking. These children are all saying the exact same thing.

“Play.”

One word.

It’s not “play with______.” It’s just,”play.” It has started to feel like they’re defining their liberty, their freedom, or the whims of childhood. Like so many of us, they delight in the space to create, invent, imagine, and associate with others. Time to simply play.

Of course it shouldn’t be an entire surprise. The founder of Montessori herself felt that children’s work was their play and that children develop through their experiences with their environment.

Delicious isn’t it?

Play-based curriculum may be something entirely different than the play these children distill down as their uniformly favorite thing to do at home. But I believe they may compliment each other. The importance of play-based learning was driven home recently in a nice opinion piece by Erika and Nicholas Christakis that circulated online. Erika Christakis, an early learning teacher,  and Nicholas Christaki, a professor of medicine and sociology, tackle the essence of how to prepare kids to thrive in college. They should know, they serve as house masters to one of the residential house at Harvard. They state, “The real “readiness” skills that make for an academically successful kindergartener or college student have as much to do with emotional intelligence as they do with academic preparation.” Take a peek at what they say about letting your children play.

Children are on to something. We gotta find more time, at all points in our life, to play.