A great preschool isn’t just about a playground or sandbox anymore. As academics become more rigorous, it is only logical for preschool to keep pace. Children are expected to learn certain skills in preschool so that they can be prepared for elementary school. When we consider the short time we have in preschool and the amount of preparation, where does play fit in?
It is within the nature of a child to be playful. A child’s instinct is to explore and they do this by exercising their senses through play. Initially they play by themselves and eventually with others. The National Association for the Education of Young Children has specified play as a criterion for childcare programs. Playing is a joyful activity and it is essential to pair it with learning and exploring. In doing this, children begin to form a positive approach to learning.
The Role of Learning in a Great Preschool
As a child develops, the play becomes more complex. Up until the age of two, a child will play by himself and will interact minimally with others. Next, a child will start observing other children and may or may not join in. This can be especially relevant to learners in a multi-age setting.
Typically, around two and a half to three years old, a preschooler will begin sitting next to another child during play. Eventually, through the use of language, cooperative and parallel play starts. An adult can help facilitate this process by creating a conducive space, and helping children find the words to express themselves.
At around the age of four, preschoolers develop individuality and discover that they share similar interests with others. In their own way, they negotiate and strategize to play, take turns and work together to attain mutual goals.
The best preschool for your child will maximize play opportunities. The preschool teacher’s role is essential to the development of play. As a parent you should look to see that the teacher has organized the classroom in a way that is conducive to play. Play should be one the main methods to meet learning objectives.
Types of Play
Dramatic: Play that is driven by fantasy. Children can be observed dressing up in costumes, assuming roles as characters, using objects or toys to make representations, creating make-believe settings, and pretending to be adults.
Manipulative: Here children will use toys or objects to build objects. Other forms of manipulative play are puzzles, puppets, and beads.
Physical: Whole body activities such as jump ropes, bikes, hoops, balls and playground structures are great physical play sources.
Creative: Use of art supplies like clay, pencils, glue, paint and more. In this form of play the learning occurs during the activity and the end result is just a bonus.
Benefits of Play
From play children develop skills they’ll use for the rest of their lives.
Physical play fosters the development of a child’s fine and gross motor skills. If a child feels confident and comfortable, they will push themselves to accomplish new challenges. A child may explore an obstacle on play structure, or venture to new parts of a park. In doing so a child builds their gross motor skills. When playing a child will develop fine motors skills by handing objects to one another, feeling and touching various objects. This early practice builds coordination for writing.
The way children build language is through cooperation and play. In cooperative play a child’s success depends on his or her ability to explain themselves. In a great preschool setting a teacher will model and repeat key phrases and words that children can utilize. Teachers will also repeat words that children say to help their peers understand. A great teacher will teach the name of an object a child is interested in handling. During play it is common for students to talk to themselves while playing side by side with other children. Eventually children repeat what they hear from one another and begin communicating with each other. Once a child is able to communicate effectively, he or she will begin to set rules, play roles, express interest and talk about funny things.
When playing a child builds a strong sense of self-confidence. Many activities a preschooler participates in are challenging. A great preschool teacher will observe and praise a child for his or her accomplishments.
Being social is hard for preschoolers. Communication in general is challenging. At this age children are very egocentric and are barely able to think beyond their own needs. When they interact with others, it allows them to develop an awareness of people and the world.
When choosing a preschool ask about play. During your visit of potential daycares, be sure to ask how they incorporate play into the curriculum. The best daycares have plenty of opportunity for play. At such facilities you will find prepared spaces from them to explore and learn.