Sunday, April 8, 2012

Importance of Play in Preschool

I often get emails requesting my "input" on what curriculum is best for preschoolers. I am happy to give you all my two cents, yet I must preface this by saying I am not an expert. Although I was an early education curriculum specialist,  I am not packing a PhD in ECE if you know what I mean.

While I cannot claim that there truly is one curriculum that will benefit every single child in the same regard, I can say that I am a huge fan of play based preschools. Play is essential to child development and children truly thrive if they are given the freedom they need to learn through their play. In this post I want to focus on imaginary play among preschoolers and the critical role it plays in cognitive development.

Play based preschools are popping up all over the nation in great opposition of the progressive education movement. This is nothing ground-breaking to be honest; the play-based curriculum has been utilized for ages. Yet there is mounting evidence that shows a strong correlation between pretend play, through social interaction i.e. a preschool setting, and cognitive development or abstract thinking. There are many cognitive strategies exhibited through pretense, such as planning, dialogue, role playing, negotiations, problem solving, and the ability to improvise.  Therefore it is nearly essential that the environment you choose to enhance your child’s development places a strong emphasis on play.

As I toured preschools I admit that I was easily swept away by the charm and novelty certain schools offered, at first. Then as I went about my day and reevaluated my observations, I reconsidered what early education is about. Isn’t the purpose of preschool in fact to prepare our children for the road ahead? A main component of early education is indeed exploration and artistic, creative expression. However there should be a clear and concise routine, expectations, rules and lessons in social boundaries and grace. An easy way to implement said items is through imaginative play and the freedom to explore pretense.

Play is a child’s work and hard work it is. Ideas for play literally flood our children’s minds each and every day. A simple trip to the doctor or a stop at the post office can lead to hours of imaginative play.  Children recreate storybooks and scenarios from their home life each and every day. One of my favorite things about teaching preschool was the hilarious glimpses I had into the homes of my students. While in the dramatic play area a little boy in class would often prepare a meal and yell “Jake! Dinner is ready, will you get off of your computer already and join us for once?!” Evidently daddy was late to join them at the dinner table all too often. Yes, I did mention this in my parent – teacher conference, I couldn’t resist. That is just one example of the many parental dialogues that were recreated in my classroom. Children need to vent just like we do. However problem solving for our little ones does not include a post onto a Facebook wall and a phone call to a friend. Go figure. Once children begin to watch television they are inundated with even more ideas to play out. One episode of Dora and the next thing you know your little princess needs to cross the troll bridge just to get to her car seat. 

Although we all have different methods and beliefs when it comes to raising our children, we should all make play-based activities a top priority. Also keep in mind that while sending your child to the “next big thing” as far as preschools go, may not be the ticket to promoting a well-rounded education. Most of the world’s success stories spent their childhood on the street playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, true story.
Happy PLAYING & Exploring!!

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