Often I am asked or hear:
But when do they learn?
What about academics?
At what point do you do Kindergarten readiness?
It makes me scream inside! I want to explode. But I smile and politely defend play. They are learning! We are getting them ready! This is academic!
You see – I think there are three schools of thought on this: There are the passion driven players, there are the people who don’t believe in the value of play but they fully support skill and academic development, and then there is this third group that has one foot in each glass. Can you guess which glass I float in? Yeah that is right – I fully drink the PLAY kool-aid. And why? Because PLAY is LEARNING! You can not separate the learning from play when authentic play is happening! Nope! If it was a jar full of sand and you sifted through it – the grains would be the same. You couldn’t sort it out and say “oh please don’t learn while you play”. But the unfortunate part is you can divide play and academics. You can sit a child down and train them to perform academically – sans play. The ironic part is when we choose to do this we are robbing children of the opportunity of quality brain development, meaningful learning, and choice.
Brain Development –
If you don’t buy that PLAY has cognitive value then do your own research on how PLAY effects the brain. Research shows that learning in a meaningful and hands-on path of exploration sticks with us. When we are a part of internalizing learning through play we make connections in our brains and activate/forge synapses. This is compared to learning information for performance. Children learn to spit out the ABCs and are praised for their success. It has no meaning to them besides “Mommy claps” for me or “Teacher says good job” and so I will keep doing it. The meaning is not in truly knowing the letters and what they symbolize but instead in memorizing and performing.
Meaningful Learning –
Children are pressured to learn their ABCs and count to 100 for Kindergarten. We sit children down for a screening for K and we test to see if they can count or identify numbers 1 -100. But many of the children that can do this have no meaning to the skill. The value is lacking. While a child may count to 100 he really may not have mastered the concept or the meaning for how many 55 or 92 actually is; I work with children that gain a deep meaning of numeracy through play. One little boy loves trucks! He plays in the sand with them, rolls them down the slide, brings books to my lap for reading about them, and creates them with art materials. Every time, without skipping a beat he knows that he needs 4 wheels for his big “Monster” truck. He will count them out and has a deep connection with the concept of 4 wheels – pink wheels, circle wheels, big wheels, etc. But he always truly knows how to count out 4 wheels for his projects. While at the grocery store he knows that Mama told him there are 6 muffins in the container – enough for him, Daddy, and Mama – with extras to spare. He understands this concept. While he may not count with rote memory to 100 he has a much more meaningful connection to numbers and numeracy. All of this gained through play and social engagements! He owns these concepts! He has made meaning of his world around him and is not wrapped up in just another skill of the day. When skills are gained during real experiences explored through play the learning becomes meaningful and rich vs. just another “splinter skill”.
But somewhere we have learned that a worksheet and skills driven tasks provide meaning and evidence for skills. We have learned as a society to value that rote memory and recall is more important than deep and connected understanding. Even educated practitioners in the Early Childhood field feel as if they need to provide play for children but then supplement academic readiness with structured lessons- these are the people with one foot in each glass, PLAY as an addictive :(! The truth is 20 minutes of play is not enough and learning is stifled when we shorten play time to tutor children in small groups or individualized academic skill lessons. So why do educators bend to the pressures? Do they not know what glass of kool-aid they drink or do they have one foot in each glass? I am excited for young children when they are given the opportunity to become a part of a school community. I am heart broken when they are made to attend programs that don’t understand that play is learning and that these two are not separate occurrences in preschool. I don’t want to hear: They get a 20 minute PLAY time and 20 minutes on learning activities or I will let them play now but next year I need to send them somewhere that they can gain their foundation in academics. I want the world to see that PLAY is the fiber to our being and the key to learning.
When my Dad wants to learn how to assemble something he does not refer to written directions. He uses diagrams and pictorials to study the composition, tests it out with his hands, and listens to a fellow expert explain the steps of the process. He selects the avenue that best suits him as a learner and for his own personal success. We all do this as learners. We decide if we want to lean on National Geographic, Popular Mechanics, Time Magazine, YouTube, Google, Mentor-ship with fellow professionals, etc. for information. As adults we are a part of that choice. So why do we not wish the same for our children? Why wouldn’t we give them ownership over their learning!
Play is for everyone! Everywhere! Why do we need play and the importance of PLAY for children and adults? Find out more:
So i beg you! Do your research! Compare PLAY to academic based lessons. See how rich learning is during PLAY! You may find yourself drinking from a new glass!
This blog was inspired by a great blog- that is a must read: