Play vs. Academic
It’s now a well known fact that quality preschools can set the precedence for a great foundation of lifelong learning. “There’s increasing evidence that children gain a lot from going to preschool,” says Kathleen McCartney, PhD, dean of Harvard Graduate School of Education, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “At preschool, they become exposed to numbers, letters, and shapes. And, more important, they learn how to socialize — get along with other children, share, contribute to circle time.” Not to mention “children who attend high-quality preschool enter kindergarten with better pre-reading skills, richer vocabularies, and stronger basic math skills than those who do not,” says National Institute of Early Education Research (NIEER) director W. Steven Barnett, PhD. (source)
But with that being said, parents are bombarded with a multitude of options for what type of program their child could attend. From play-based to academic or even Montessori. Wonders encourages parents to think broadly about what they hope their child will gain from their preschool experience when deciding the right match.
Wonders is a play-based and developmentally appropriate program. For some, play-based learning may conjure up images of classrooms with little structure and minimal teacher direction. At Wonders, our teachers and our curriculum guide children’s learning through play. Our thoughtfully crafted curriculum allows children to learn actively by providing hands-on experiences while interacting with their surroundings. Learning is supported through consistent daily routines and well-organized classrooms. The focus of our programs is on a child’s cognitive, social-emotional, and physical growth. We believe the child is an active learner and gains knowledge about the world through experience, with skillful teacher observations. Students set the learning pace, and the teacher serves as a guide.
But what about their ABC’s, adding and dividing and the other multitude of academically focused areas?
“Young children can certainly learn letters and numbers, but to sit kids down and ‘teach’ them is the wrong way to do it,” says Linda Smith, former executive director of the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (now known as Child Care Aware). “They learn best through doing the kinds of activities they find interesting — story time, talking to their teachers about stars, playing with blocks.” To help children learn language and strengthen pre-reading skills, for instance, teachers might play rhyming games and let children tell stories. Keep in mind that for small children, school is all about having fun and acquiring social skills — not achieving academic milestones. “Kids need to be imaginative and to socialize — that’s what fosters creative, well-rounded people. It’s not whether they can read by age 4 or multiply by 5,” says Amy Flynn, director of New York City’s Bank Street Family Center. An ideal curriculum? Parading around in dress-up clothes, building forts, and being read to. (source)
There is no conclusive research that says that early academic training is superior to the more hands-on model of early education. The concept that “earlier is better” is not actually supported by longitudinal studies. Here are some interesting research (Blair, 2002) to consider:
- While “stimulation” is very important, neurological research shows that formal academic instruction is not the best way to optimize early brain development.
- Early formal academic instruction is good at producing test results in the short term, but does NOT result in better school achievement in the long term.
- Early formal academic instruction is more damaging to boys than girls in the long term though research is not clear right now as to why.
There has been an abundance of research around play and its positive effects on early childhood learning and development. In general, research shows strong links between creative play and language, physical, cognitive, and social development. Play is a healthy, essential part of childhood.
So it’s not about play vs. learning but play and learning.