According to a report by the Journal of American Pediatrics, “Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.” But what happens when a child’s environment is chaotic, stressful, and impoverished? What happens when the opportunity for safe, unstructured, child-driven play is not available?
Those of us working closely with young children understand that play is how a child learns best. Play is a child’s work. It is the most effective way to express emotions, negotiate relationships, resolve conflicts, and learn to work in a group. Play involves every aspect of development - physical, cognitive, social and emotional. It inspires creativity and imagination and decreases anxiety and stress. Children who are denied time to play are denied the opportunity to meet their full learning potential.
For children coping with the traumatic stress of homelessness, play cannot be an optional activity. It must be part of their educational and care plan if they are to grow up healthy.