Learning to Play Builds Educational Foundation

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Written by Jennifer Spires and Danielle Volinsky, Preschool Directors

Early childhood education is a vital part of a child’s learning foundation. Preschool is the perfect environment for developing social, emotional, cognitive, and motor skills. The early years of learning are the most critical because they develop the whole child and allow them to create experiences that form a strong structure on which all other learning is built. Preschool may just look like play time, but it is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child.

Technology is a great learning tool when used correctly, but too often TV, tablets, and phones are being used as a babysitter or distraction. The virtual world is keeping children from interacting with the environment that they are living in. Some childcare centers have students sitting at desks or on computers for long periods of their day. Some parents might be looking for preschools that are focused on pushing children toward academic excellence instead of play-based experiences. Teachers see the changes in our society because children cannot sit still to listen to a short story or to complete simple tasks. Parents and childcare professionals should be looking for ways to engage children in learning with hands on experiences where they can grow in all areas.

Preschool should provide opportunities for children to grow while having fun in a safe, loving, and engaging environment. Children that are not given the foundation of problem solving, movement, and play experiences often struggle later in their academic careers. They might struggle with anxiety, be less attentive, be unable to socialize with peers or have sensory delays. When children play in the housekeeping center at preschool, they are grasping ways to communicate verbally and non-verbally. They are learning to interact with others, role play and use their imagination. Building with blocks isn’t just play, the children are visualizing and planning their creations, manipulating different weights and sizes, and building mathematical and science skills. They also develop a sense of pride when they see their vision become a reality that they can share with teachers and peers. Preschool provides language development with show and tell and story dramatizations. Children learn to articulate words and emotions, become more confident speaking to others, and to take turns and listen politely. There is so much more to preschool than just mastering the ABC’s and 123’s.

Sometimes attending preschool at an early age is difficult for families financially. There are many great ways that parents or caregivers can enrich play experiences at home. Reading to children is one of the best ways to develop pre-reading strategies. Visit the library and choose a children’s book to share. Talk about the pictures and create discussions throughout the story to build comprehension and retention skills. Cooking with your child will open a connection to trying new foods, improve skills for following directions and developing motor skills with measuring, stirring, and pouring. Making a mess is an integral part of being a child. Playdough and painting strengthen hands for writing. Arts and crafts improve cutting skills, fine motor control, and engage senses through different textures. Games can teach a variety of academic skills, as well as how to be patient and wait their turn. Wins are great to celebrate, but children also need to know it is okay to lose. We learn to play through interaction; children need to see appropriate behavior when they win and when they lose. Parents can also model good social interaction through play. When building with blocks, accidently knock down the tower, apologize, and work together to rebuild. Play should include conversations about right and wrong, ways to communicate with others, and how to share.

There are many ways to learn the skills needed to be successful in school and in life. Research shows that play gives children the experiences they need to develop in all areas of learning and provides a strong foundation that they can continue to build upon. The experiences children learn through play and hands-on activities are ones that they will be able to recall and utilize during educational activities for years to come. It is important to remember that all children develop at different rates, at different times, and in different ways. We, as parents, have the responsibility of providing an environment that will lead to success.

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