I was recently reading this article from The Australian newspaper, Dangers at play in uniform preschool learning, warning parents and educators about the push down pressure of formalising early childhood education and the potential for negative impacting children. The article highlights five particular problems that I have listed below, with my responses to them;
- Wearing formal uniforms: Young children need to be suitably clothed for play. Comfortable, easy wear clothing that allows them to climb, run and jump, sit on the floor and be children.
- Following school routines that were originally developed for older children: I have seen many 3-5 year olds who still need a good rest/sleep during a busy day of play and learning. Formalising early education and expecting young children to conform to inflexible routines with inadequate time for rest and down time makes for some pretty unhappy, switched-off-to-learning children.
- The expectation of parents that children should be reading and writing before school: Isn’t that a major reason why children go to school? By all means, read to children, write with them, play with language but do not expect your child to be formally learning to read and write before school.
- Formalisation of preschool: Preschool is for learning through playful enterprise, not for a watered down first grade learning program. Pre-school aged children need active learning experiences, not directed teaching or rote learning.
- Over rushed, over scheduled, stressed, anxious children: Due to all of the above, combined with our propensity for filling our lives with activities and ‘stuff.’
The article then touches on the importance of young children learning through play. Unfortunately, I do not think the article goes far enough when defining the benefits of play as;
- “They’re learning life skills — how to negotiate with each other, how to play with other kids — and they use their imaginations.”
- “Can master their feelings in play, and that helps them master them in real life.”
- “Need to be free emotionally and to have a chance to explore the world for themselves.”
Why are the benefits of play limited to skills relating to social and emotional development and the use of imagination? Is it any wonder that adults so often do not take the idea of play as ‘the work of children’ seriously?
What about all of the other knowledge, skills, behaviours and abilities children learn through play? Language and literacy, mathematics, science, problem solving, thinking and reasoning, awareness of the natural world, creativity, negotiating… I could easily go on. Research continually shows us that young children learn through play.
As the Director of a child care centre I developed a presentation entitled, “Don’t They Just Play?” to demonstrate to the centre’s parents the value of play. In this presentation I borrowed from Harvard College’s mission statement and the list of Skills for Success: What Employers Want (from Graduate Careers Australia) to list the skills Harvard aimed to develop in their students and the skills employers today are looking for. It was a long list of important learning and life skills and behaviours;
- To create knowledge
- To open the minds of students to that knowledge
- To respect ideas and their free expression
- To rejoice in discovery and in critical thought
- To pursue excellence in a spirit of productive cooperation
- To assume responsibility for the consequences of personal actions
- To explore
- To create
- To challenge
- To lead
- Habits of lifelong learning
- Literacy and numeracy
- Time management and organization
- Oral and written communication
- Team work
- Creative problem solving
- Initiative and enterprise
- Critical and analytical thinking
- Ability to apply discipline knowledge and concepts
- Information gathering
- Emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills
- Ability to manage stress
- Community involvement
- Personal attributes of ambition, self awareness and an inquiring mind
I could demonstrate to the parents multiple examples of children at play developing every single one of these. Young children can learn all of these things (and many more) through play. Did your child have time to play today?