Written by Alison Randall, Atelier Kids Pedagogista
A “play” vs. “academics” debate has been happening for decades, in both early years and elementary school settings. As we learn more about the brains of our youngest citizens, we see strong evidence for letting children play, and knowing it is the absolute best path toward a healthy educational future. Play is often juxtaposed with purpose, with serious learning. But today’s research is making evident that good outcomes are associated with less structure.
During play, children draw on and develop more skills than most adults realize. Play naturally implies that children are in charge, that there is no set agenda or specific steps to follow, and as a result, no way to “do it wrong”. Children make independent choices every minute, evaluating what feels right in their play. They problem solve when something doesn’t work out and collaborate with their peers. And when it doesn’t work out as they thought, they must employ divergent thinking, using trial and error. A play-based education creates a thinker before putting the facts in.
Play is how children explore the world and practice skills. It is essential for physical, emotional and spiritual growth; for intellectual and educational development. Play is creative, filled with open-ended and unpredictable results. Each experience is unique and often results in surprise and comedy – fun! And that’s what gets them coming back again, and again.
Play also builds pro social behaviour, founded in problem solving while in relationship with those around them. Children can be spontaneous and repetitive, learning the value of taking turns with their peers. Learning naturally takes place when ideas, concepts and theories are shared in a social context. After all, it is through human relations that all intelligences sprout.
Current research now shows us that play actually changes a child’s brain by helping to improve their executive function: the thinking processes that regulate emotions, make plans and solve problems. Researchers have found that preschool children who score well on assessments of executive function demonstrate greater kindergarten readiness and school success than other children. They also achieve higher scores on math and language assessments.
The Crucial Role of Educators
Play-based program educators know that positioning themselves as co-learners – walking the path of discovery alongside the children – is of the utmost importance. When educators provide open-ended materials and play invitations, observe and ask open-ended questions, the child’s learning is founded in strong relationships and trust. The goal of early education should be to create confident young citizens who see themselves as capable learners. Research also shows us that how a child feels about themselves as a learner in the early years forms the basis for not only how they learn in formal schooling, but also how well they do later in life. Their success has nothing to do with the facts they know in preschool; all these facts level out.
Play is developmentally exactly where young children need to be spending their time, naturally helping to grow so many crucial life skills: social, cognitive, linguistic, physical and creative.
Our mission at Atelier Kids Early Learning & Care is to nurture the naturally curious minds and kind hearts of every child, while keeping them safe as they play. Play is the complex work of childhood and the care we provide guides their learning. Book a tour with us by visiting our website at atelierkids.com.