Gray Matters, March 2023

How Play Fosters Social and Academic Growth and Development

Last week I had the pleasure of attending our 6th Grade’s production of Game of Myths at Miracle Theater. The children did a fabulous job. I am always very impressed with our students' poise and maturity on stage. This is undoubtedly a byproduct of their hard work and the guidance and support they receive from our wonderful Performing Arts team, Shelly Work and Jill Brandenburg.

As I reflected on the performance my mind migrated to the many ways in which play has an essential place in learning. At Capitol Hill Day School we believe we have a wonderful story to tell: a narrative that thoughtfully weaves together all elements of our community. One of the primary characters in our story is play. From Early Childhood through the Upper Grades, play in its many forms is an intentional element of our program.  

Research clearly demonstrates that play is the first and most natural way we learn. A learner’s ability to play with imagination is the building block of abstract thinking and executive functioning skills. For example, children’s ability to create musical instruments out of found objects on the playground leads naturally to their ability to see figurative language as a symbolic placeholder for concrete objects. A child’s ability to structure and sustain a pretend storyline is a first step in their ability to organize their thinking on later tasks that demand more sophisticated analysis and critical thinking. In classrooms, at all grade levels, new content is often introduced through an opportunity to play and explore with materials and concepts.

At Capitol Hill Day School we are committed to the belief that kids of all ages need time to be outside, interact with the natural world, and experience physical activity. As evidence of this, all Capitol Hill Day School students, from Early Childhood to 8th Grade, get outside for unstructured playtime twice each day. 

Several years ago, in support of our commitment to outdoor play, we renovated the School’s front yard. You may have noticed our latest addition, circular garden boxes. This spring these will become spaces where young children will dig in the dirt, plant, and watch things grow. Also starting this spring and including through the summer, elements of Garfield Park, including some of the play structures, are scheduled to be renovated. This is a project that the School has been engaging in directly and one in which we are working in close coordination with the Department of Parks and Recreation.  

Whether in a classroom, on the playground or stage, we use play at Capitol Hill Day School to foster fundamental elements of social and academic growth and development: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and risk taking. Through an environment that encourages playfulness, children at Capitol Hill Day School joyfully embrace challenges and develop a true love of learning.