Guest Post: Play Matters

Guest Post: Play Matters

My husband and I have resolved to have more fun with our kids in 2012. We've found that we have a tendency to let the stress of our day-to-day lives interfere with having fun every single day (no matter what). As part of that plan, we are focusing more on playing together as a family. I am trying to spend more time on the carpet building LEGO towers and playing bingo. More play. More fun.

When I was approached by a representative of Sharp As A Tack, a new organization in the city focusing on "play with a purpose," I was intrigued. I invited Caryn Lichtenberg, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Sharp As A Tack to share some thoughts on the importance of play and what her organization is doing to help, kids and educators play purposefully. A former kindergarten, 2nd grade, and 7th grade teacher, Caryn knows that play is important at all ages and stages. At Sharp As A Tack, she hopes to spread innovative thinking, imagination, and a sense of wonder. Here is what Caryn has to say about the role of play in learning.


You don’t need to ask a child what their favorite part of school is to know the answer. It’s recess, of course. Children love to play and they might know something about their brains that schools have forgotten. Play matters. In fact, our brains need play to practice and strengthen key academic and life skills such as problem solving, working memory, and empathy. 

Sharp As A Tack is bringing purposeful play to Chicago communities. In Sharp’s programs, children have the opportunity to strengthen cognitive abilities that lead to academic success, all the while having a blast. As a former teacher, it’s exciting to witness the clear emotional and cognitive growth alongside bountiful laughter and enthusiasm. Take the following brief exchange I observed while a group of 5-year-olds were playing Hoot Owl Hoot, a cooperative game by Peaceable Kingdom (

“Ok. Raise your hand if you think I should move this owl to blue. “ All kids raise their hand. “Good. That’s what I think too. I’ll move him to blue.”

I was amazed to see to this level of collaboration and decision-making amongst kindergarteners, especially because this behavior was completely unprompted. It developed through the nature of the game and the nature of play. The students were given a task that required them to work together, and they rose to the challenge. The task was free of stress and evaluation. It was just play, which I believe then freed these children to learn and grow.

Sharp As A Tack currently offers afterschool programs at over 20 Chicago schools (and more to come!), in addition to specialty workshops, spring break camps, and summer camps. I’m particularly excited about the Young Author’s Workshop, which guides students through the writing process, both the creative side and the mechanics, using games. Writing can be a difficult subject to both teach and to learn, but these games will truly spark the imagination and provide incentive and passion for the craft. Workshops will be held at The Game Room, Sharp As A Tack’s new space in the Ravenswood area at 4727 N. Clark.  Look for an in-depth workshop series will be held in the month of March. More information about these workshops, after-school programs, and other events can be found at Come out and play!



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