Preschool Play Time


A friend on Facebook recently shared this article from the Washington Post. As I read it, it reminded me of a recent blog post of mine about teaching science in kindergarten to boost kindergarten success.

This article is written by a pediatric occupational therapist with kids of her own, Angela Hanscom, a pretty good source for the nature of the content I would say.

She describes her life as the mother of a preschooler and how she was “obsessed with making sure her daughter was READY for school. And not just ready to succeed, but ready to excel. What parent doesn’t want that for their child? It is proven that in America education is practically essential to living a “good” life. It has become more and more necessary to obtain a college degree in order to get entry level jobs and without a high school degree it is incredibly difficult to break through the extremely low ceiling America has established.

So, why would any parent not do everything in their power to put their kids on the track to a successful and high quality life?

It’s not the intention that’s the problem, though, Hanscom says, it is the execution of this intent. “Teaching” kids how to sit still and absorb information and other “school readiness” skills should not be the priority at preschool age. Mentally and physically, children under the age of seven are still developing so much that they need huge amounts of experience to mold them into children who are ready to sit still and absorb information and share and excel in school. This experience comes from playing, primarily outdoors, where they can learn about the world and be challenged and fail and succeed and be stimulated naturally. I am in a child psychology class right now, and we are learning about all of the biological processes that are going on within children from infant to preschool age, and how they are still developing so rapidly that it is almost physically impossible for them to sit still. They have to learn through doing and playing.

This play time is in jeopardy in America today, though.

As the article stated, adults want to fix a problem as quickly and efficiently as possible, so when children were showing signs of falling behind in kindergarten, the decision was made to do more work in kindergarten to make them ready to succeed. But teaching more math, or science, or any subject, in preschool isn’t what is ideal for the child in the long run. That is a short-term fix instead of focusing on giving kids the right environment to grow up in where safe play and learning through experience is encouraged. This could also explain the drop off point where advances made in preschool give children a head start in kindergarten that tapers off as the year progresses.

Preschoolers need to play and kids younger than preschoolers need to play. This isn’t to say all learning-based puzzles or play dates are bad, but that the focus of the younger years of childhood should be on allowing kids to play and be kids and worry about a focus structured schooling as they get older.

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