LEARNING THROUGH PLAY
“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” ~Joseph Chilton Pearce
Can you think back to your days in preschool and kindergarten? What were they like? Do you remember working on math sheets, letter writing and learning how to read and write? Or, do you remember playing, dressing up, creating art and music?
For me, most of my memories of my very young years in school are filled with dress-up, circle time, songs, outdoor play, playing blocks, toys and making friends. I do have one vivid memory of an early time in kindergarten when the teacher was working to have us all memorize our address and phone number and learn to write it down correctly.
I remember feeling very stressed and frustrated because it was very hard for me to retain the correct numbers and letters. I remember feeling not yet ready and pressured to be able to complete this task like many of my classmates were able to do. Looking at what children now have to learn so young, I can hardly imagine how much more stress and frustration they feel than I did way back 30+ years ago.
I’m not sure if I ever did get those numbers and letters right that year but somehow I was able to move up to first grade without being a fluent reader and now I write for a living and can usually remember and print out my address and phone number if I’ve had enough cups of coffee each morning.
Times were different then for sure. Modern day kindergartens would probably laugh me right out of the classroom. Children are expected to know much more and most kindergarten classrooms pride themselves on having their students all reading fluently by the end of the year, whether or not they are ready. It is a one-size-fits-all model being presented to children at all different levels of development. But, at least they are learning best – or are they?
We already know that our children are playing outdoors less and less. With the huge advances in technology and screen-based entertainment, there is very little need to walk out your backdoor for fun anymore. Public schools limit outdoor play to 10-20 minutes per day and expect children to practice their “skills” at home with a fairly hefty amount of homework, sometimes even at the kindergarten level.
In addition, parents paying for a preschool or kindergarten tuition often expect more than “just play” for their money. When once preschool and kindergarten was an extension of the home for social and creative benefits, we now have a entirely new image on what early childhood education should look like in our society.
Many parents and educators believe the young child’s mind is like a sponge at the critical age before three years old and that we should jump on the opportunity to fill our children up with as much information as we possibly can while the “learning is good”. Fear can fuel our decisions, wanting to make sure our children are not somehow left behind the rat-race. Is a play-based kindergarten really the best place for our children in the new world we live in?
Time and time again, research is saying YES and I would venture to say that it is MORE important now than ever.
Even some rough play may not be a bad thing after all. Mammals of all types exhibit play-based behavior as they are developing into adolescence and when they are deprived of ample time to play, there are serious consequences. “If you suppress rough and tumble play during the developmental cycle of a rat and then release it into normal adulthood, it can’t tell friend from foe and is quick to make enemies, it can’t manage stress and it can’t reproduce.” Stuart Brown, M.D.
So we must ask ourselves what the consequences are going to be for our children when they are “released” into the world. The truth is that play is not just for fun it is a necessary developmental tool for learning itself. When we realize this, we will understand how very important it is to protect play in early childhood, support it and pay for good teachers and schools to facilitate it.
A strong foundation, free of anxiety and hurry, needs to be built first before we expect children to turn into little scholars. There is so much to be learned in this world and we need to allow our youngest children to learn the basics first. The opportunity to create and imagine will lead to a confident child who understands they are capable of making things happen.
Allowing children the time to play helps them to find themselves and figure out how they fit into this world they have come to. They practice being mothers and fathers, restaurant owners, teachers, builders and artists. They can experiment, find what they enjoy and what they are best at. They can communicate without stress and learn to express their needs and wants and be free and whole human beings.
I am very grateful that I was able to immerse my children deeply and fully in an early childhood experience free of pressure and forced academics and rich in creativity, play, song, art and movement. I am also grateful to be able to offer such an environment for other children in my play garden each week.
What method of early education have you chosen for your children? What have been the struggles and successes you have encountered in doing so? What are your fears and concerns for your children as they grow and participate in this fast paced world around us?
Can I challenge you to protect one full hour at least of complete and full free play for your children per day, every single day this week?