I sat in on my first info evening for my biggest little lady last night. Holy hell, I feel like I’m living in that place! Anyways, the teachers were talking about the changes to the curriculum and that ‘more is now expected of preps’. That didn’t sit well with me. More is expected of them? Of 4 and 5 year olds? What do we want from these little people? It seems that there is now this huge shift toward heavy curriculum and a move away from play based learning. Which is shit. Kids are only kids for such a short period of time. And it has been well researched and documented just how important play is for learning and development. Why are we in such a rush to throw these little ones into a formal curriculum? Does it make them better? Smarter? The jury is still out on that one. Now don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to get an early start, and to utilise those little minds when they are like sponges, eager and ready to learn. But to push them to cram all this formal learning in their little minds, when many are still trying to adjust to not having a day sleep anymore, just seems a bit off.
Why is play so good for learning? Well, let me count the ways:
- Play encompasses both social, emotional, physical and cognitive processes. It covers it all in a rich and amazing format!
- Sometimes play includes frustrations, challenges, negotiation- it requires children to be constantly processing and thinking and modulating their environment
- Play has consistently been demonstrated as a method children use to work through their queries or concerns. They will often play out their issues, and find resolutions. Even if adults can’t quite see it!
- Still in the early stages of research, but play is being demonstrated to have an important impact on brain development. Play provides active exploration, which enhances and builds brain pathways (Lester & Russell, 2008). We all want our kids to have good neural pathways, right?
- Children who are involved in quality play experiences are more likely to have enhanced memory skills, language development, behavioural and emotional regulation. Which then leads to benefits in school adjustment and more formal academic learning down the track (Bodrova & Leong, 2005).
- Play doesn’t just mean making a mess in the sandpit. Play can be through interactive storybooks, role playing, home corner, dance and movement.
- Play encourages a broader range of cognitive and oral language skills, which fosters motivation for future learning. We’ve got to get them enthusiastic and excited about learning before cramming their brains with specific, formal curriculum! (Nicolopoulou, 2010).
A lot of psych’s also use play as a form of therapy for younger kids, such is the power of play. It helps children communicate their struggles, to prevent or resolve challenges. It’s particularly useful in cases of trauma in early childhood. You can watch a child become ‘un-stuck’ from an issue over the course of weeks using play therapy. Watching the toys they select, how they use the objects, the language and interactions they employ. Fascinating stuff. And while it feels like you’re not doing much (well, for me it feels like that. I always feel like I have to ‘teach’ a strategy), you’re actually doing more by allowing them to play. Something maybe our curriculum needs to revert back to a bit more. There is still a fair bit of play in prep, but it has changed. And it is not at the level that it should be, we’re slowly moving further and further away from what is most important for our little ones. I’m interested to see how far in the other direction it heads by the time Miss SP gets to school.
So, before you pry that train from your cherubs hand, and try to shove a mathematical equation in front of them, you’re doing an awesome thing by letting them play. It’s the best kind of learning they can get at this early stage. There is plenty of time for formal learning of rules, equations, formulas and prose. Let us allow kids to be kids for a little while longer. And we will see the benefits down the track.
Also you can check more info out here:
Early Childhood Australia- some great info on play based learning here:
Early Childhood News have a snazzy article to check out
And if you want any info on play therapy, check this site out
Where do you sit on the great play debate? Should we cut the play and go straight to the curriculum? Or do you think we’re pushing too hard too fast?