At one point or another every early childhood educator has had to explain to someone that the children are doing so much more than just “playing” all day. We have also had to explain that we are not going to sit children down all day and make them copy letters and numbers either.
Early learning is the most unique type of learning, and also the most important. Most of brain development is established during the first three years of life. The most critical years of learning take place during the first five years. All of this happens before children ever take their first step onto a school bus.
Many educators have dedicated their professional careers to discovering and developing the best ways to prepare children for what lies ahead. Yes, we want to help them be kindergarten ready, but it is so much more than that. We want to help guide children in all things, to become that well rounded little human being that we love. We have to lay the ground work for higher level learning to take place later on. As an NAEYC accredited program we follow and believe in the research that has been backed by the importance of play.
One of the best ways we have found to cater to the whole child is by engaging them in play. It is not just letting children do what they want to all day; it is guiding them with ideas and materials, then stepping back and letting them steer. Let their interests be a big part of how you teach. If the child can connect with the material then they will learn it effortlessly.
Forcing learning down a child’s throat (or anyone’s throat for that matter) does not end in success. Each child has their own quarks and they will all learn in different ways. It may come easier to some than others, but they will all find understanding if you present the information in just the right way. Using play as one of your tools can have a huge impact because play comes naturally to children.
For young children there is no difference between play and learning. It is fun to learn and learning is fun. As Laurel Bongiomo, PhD puts it, “they are not separate activities. They are intertwined. Think about them as a science lecture with a lab. Play is the child’s lab” (NAEYC). Playing extends beyond the classroom alone. Playing outside, playing alone, with siblings, with peers, with family; each of these situations is setting the child up for success and challenging their brains in different and supportive ways.
The list of reasons for “why play?” could go on and on, but the main skills pulled from play are: cognitive skills, physical agility, and social skills. Under those main points stem kindness, love, and acceptance, gross and fine motor development, and use of imagination, expanding vocabularies, and problem solving skills. To the untrained eye it may just look like child’s play, but to the educator we see the real magic happening right before us.