Maker events, such as this Maker Meetup at Millvale Community Library, are one way we are recapturing the value of play.

“Learning in our society at this point cannot just be giving children information,” says Roberta Schomburg. “Number one, we don’t know what information they’ll need, and number two, that is not building knowledge.”

Schomburg, director of graduate studies in early childhood education at Carlow University, is offering a free workshop called “The Power of Play” on April 23 at The Ellis School to show parents and educators just how important play is for early learning and social readiness, and “how to unlock creativity, spontaneity, and a love of learning in every child,” as the school describes the workshop.

“What I hear from teachers is that with all the pressures on testing … a lot of the play is being squeezed out of the curriculum, from preschool classrooms all the way through school,” Schomburg says. Instead, we need to understand that play helps us work and learn – and we ought to know how to encourage it.

Adds Schomburg, who is also a fellow of the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College: “How can we balance this pressure for excellence and high performance … with knowing in the long-term that 21st century skills are really related to play” – skills such as flexibility, risk taking, collaboration and problem solving, which will allow kids to thrive in their careers.

Knowledge is not something teachers can pour into our heads from a textbook, she points out. Knowledge is something kids and adults construct from an exploration of the world. At the workshop, Schomburg will talk about the various kinds of play, beginning with the exploration of the physical world, followed by constructive play: doing something with the materials kids have discovered. Next comes imaginative play (make-believe, stories, drama, art) that leads to literacy and writing skills, and then playing games with rules, which teaches lessons about social interaction and collaboration.

Part of the reason kids and parents don’t understand the importance of play is the pace of life today. “I feel that we’ve got our children so overly scheduled that, when we give children time, they don’t even know what to do with it,” Schomburg says. “We need to provide unstructured opportunities where they can decide what they want to do.”

She has seen teaching trends come and go, she says, but the use of exploration and play should never go out of style: “Now is the time we really need to encourage kids to take charge of their learning. It fosters the innovation we’re going to need in the next 50 years.”

Registration, which is required, can be done here.

Marty Levine's journalism has appeared in Time, and throughout Pennsylvania and has won awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, The Press Club of Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere. He teaches magazine writing for Creative Nonfiction magazine.