Over the past decade, teacher-led didactic instruction has been introduced to children at a younger and younger age. Programs like No Child Left Behind, the Race to the Top, and Common Core Standards implementation have pushed for this approach in hopes that it will give children a boost in those crucial subjects where the U.S. is considered behind. In fact, most formal education now begins at the age of 4 or 5. But, is this approach helping or hurting education in the long-term?
There has been a significant amount of research on the subject of how young children learn, and we now know more than ever. Research has shown that learning through play teaches children how to persevere, control attention, and control emotions, which are all things that children need before they can sit down for formal instruction. Research has also revealed that overly structured classrooms don’t benefit many young children. A recent New York Times article explores the advantages of letting children learn through play and the goals that proponents of learning through play techniques are aiming for — to develop people who can discover and innovate and will grow to be leaders.
Intentional play is a developmentally-appropriate approach that pairs play with learning outcomes. It promotes exploration while teachers support and extend learning with questions, modeling and brainstorming. There are many ways to encourage intentional play in the Pre-K and Kindergarten classroom.
Combining creative movement activities with music, basic skills and important academic subjects such as early literacy and math provides a playful atmosphere while promoting early learning goals. Recordings are easy to implement and engage even reluctant learners.
As we try to help children make strides in learning, it is important that they receive the information they will need to be successful; however, it is most effective if they gain that knowledge through play and teacher support.
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