The Journey Ahead

The Importance of Play

Here at Mizzentop Day School, we take your child’s education and early childhood development very seriously. That’s precisely why we make time for play every day and incorporate play into the learning environment.

We don’t need the American Academy of Pediatrics to tell us this is true. Although they have. We see it every day. Here’s what they have to say about it.


“It could be argued that active play is so central to child development that it should be included in the very definition of childhood. Play offers more than cherished memories of growing up, it allows children to develop creativity and imagination while developing physical, cognitive, and emotional strengths.”  

— Regina M. Milteer, Et Al., American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report


What Counts as Play?

Children know intuitively what play is. Unfortunately, that innate sense has been lost by many once they reach adulthood. Just like crying or laughing, play comes completely naturally to children.

When do you know if a child is playing and reaping the cognitive, emotional, and educational benefits we are so sure play provides? Here’s what we think.

Play is measurable. Our structured play programs include the following indicators.

  • Children are using their imagination. They are not viewing the world or their activity literally, but are engaged in activities that they are viewing metaphorically or assigning new meaning to.
  • Real emotional responses are occurring. When children are thoroughly engaged in play that elicits genuine and spontaneous emotional responses, they are learning to recognize and regulate their emotions. They often have to deal with anger, frustration, and a whole myriad of positive, affirming emotions, including trust, joy, and surprise.
  • Activity is propelled by choice and self motivation. Play requires children to motivate their own engagement. Any activity that is forced or overly structured doesn’t provide the same benefits as play that requires choice, self-direction, and independent decision making. Children must choose to play.

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Types of Play

Free or unstructured play is critical to the development of young bodies and minds. It meets all of the requirements of what it means to play. The agreed-upon benefits of this kind of play include both social and emotional development. This kind of play is how children learn to navigate the world they live in.

Structured or guided play is typically structured by a teacher and is designed to help children develop specific cognitive, emotional, physical, or academic skills. Typically, rules are set in advance and children are expected to play according to the rules. This may be a child’s first introduction to developing a strategy focused on winning a game. Guided play can reinforce cooperation and help children understand how to follow complex instructions. Resiliency and new skills are developed through structured play.


“As astronauts and space travelers children puzzle over the future; as dinosaurs and princesses they unearth the past. As weather reporters and restaurant workers they make sense of reality; as monsters and gremlins they make sense of the unreal.”

Early Childhood Educator, Gretchen Owocki


Balancing Academics and Play

We are often asked about the need to balance play and academics. The fact is that the two are not mutually exclusive, and the question presents a false dichotomy. There really is no tradeoff to be made. Play is an academic tool.

The Enemy of Play

We believe that the new focus on standardized testing does not support the evidence of the importance of play. That’s why we don’t teach to tests. Your child’s health, happiness, and academic success requires much more than the ability to answer multiple choice questions that a bureaucrat somewhere decided they should know the answer to.

Play at Mizzentop

We’re committed to making sure every student receives the benefits of free and structured play. All structured activities are developmentally, and age, appropriate. Free play is always well supervised, but very loosely regulated. Play is integrated into all of our early childhood and kindergarten-level academics in some way, because it is critical to preparing students for a successful transition to middle school.  

If you are looking for a school in Pawling, we hope you’ll give us a call and come out to see us. We feel privileged to help educate our community’s children and to prepare them to head off to life’s next adventure.


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