Play Builds Academic Foundation

Our Preschool Play Program is very play based. Open play is available the whole class time, with group play activities presented throughout. While we don’t focus on academics, we have a firm belief that play provides a strong foundation for later academics. Here are a few ways:

  • Challenges in Play Build a Sense of Industry– The more you can challenge kids to do something faster, build something taller, to problem solve together or think about something in a new way, the more they are having experiences at rising to meet challenges. As children meet challenges, they build an ‘I can do it’ or ‘I can try it’ attitude which is helpful later in the classroom.
  • Pretend Play Builds Representational Thinking– It is a cognitive jump when children start using representation in play. This happens when they use the block as a ‘telephone,’ or the sidewalk as their ‘pool.’ Representational thinking happens most often during pretend play. It lays foundation for later symbol use and academic representation. This means the letter ‘B’ can more easily represent the sound ‘buh,’ and the number 3 can more easily represent three objects.
  • Open Ended Toys Pull for More Flexible Use and Creative Problem Solving – Children playing with basic toys such as blocks, balls, art and craft supplies and dolls tend to use the toys in more flexible ways. Buy toys that do less, so the children will do more. This means, if you are buying a doll, buy the basic one rather than the one that talks or grows hair. When the doll has a given function, children play in a more narrow way; buy open ended. Flexible use of toys often includes more creative problem solving in play.
  • Reading Aloud Daily Helps Build Successful Readers– Reading aloud with children to encourage a love of stories and books is one of the single most important factors in their eventual reading success.
  • Social Problem Solving Practice Benefits Group Work – Much of elementary school work happens in groups. The more practice children have at solving social conflicts the better.

Teach Them to Listen

There are many ways to build listening skills. There are lots of good children’s books that introduce the idea and importance of listening. A few titles include Listen and Learn by Free Spirit Publishing, The Worst Day of My Life Ever by Julia Cook and the Amelia Bedelia books.

Many games practice listening skills including Telephone, 20 Questions, Robot, Eye Spy, Crazy Directions, Simon Says, Hullabaloo, Guess Who, Clue Jr. or Clue and Noodleboro’s Pizza Palace listening game. As children are older, there is Mystery Garden, Listening Lotto and Sound Bingo. Play games regularly.

We talk in classes about being a good listener by keeping our bodies still, our mouths quiet and our eyes on the speaker. You might check in with children after you speak or have given them directions by asking what you said, for the most important part or for what they should do first. When you ask them to give you words back about what you said, it’s better for it to be their own version rather than verbatim.

Challenge listening by reading slightly longer books with more words and fewer pictures as they grow. Challenge listening with verbal stories or books on tape. Occasionally, practice dialogic reading with your child. When they are younger it is asking questions about the pictures, such as “What is this?” As they are older, it is asking questions about the story such as, “what do you think will happen next?” or, “what was your favorite part?” The idea is to build open discussion around the reading as a habit to increase listening and comprehension.

Take Listening Walks, this is a trip around the neighborhood or on your favorite path with the idea of walking quietly and listening to all the sounds you can hear. Afterward list together all the sounds and talk about how different it is to really listen rather than talk and play.

Article on Teaching Self-Control

I just wanted to share a link to a great article from The New York Times titled Building Self-Control, The American Way by Aamodt and Wang.

During the next week, I will post ideas and activities to support developing listening skills, planning, goal setting and follow through skills, sequencing, their attention to detail, attention span and impulse control. In agreement with the article, these will all be through play. Here are a few guidelines as you work and play to build new skills:

Avoid Lecture

When you are teaching new skills like goal setting, listening, planning and sequencing, you want to avoid lecturing as much as possible. The best way for children to learn these types of skills is through play and experience. This means if you are teaching listening skills you want to do this through things like puppet shows, role plays, hypotheticals, storytelling, movement games and art projects.

Gradually Challenge

Whatever the concern, start small and work your way up. When children are starting with puzzles, you start with simple patterns and a few pieces, and gradually work the way up to more challenging ones. It is the same with skills like impulse control and listening. These are skills that are best to gradually challenge and grow.

Highlight When They Do Well

With life skills, it can be easy to overlook when things go well. If you have an often impulse child, it can be easy to overlook when they happen to wait patiently in line at the grocery store with you for five minutes. It is those easy moments that you want to reinforce the behavior. Notice that they did well. It’s best to describe the behavior back to them, “you waited to quietly, that was helpful!”

Have fun and grow!

Exactly! Downside of E-Readers for Young Children

So, I’ve been asked many times in the last year for my thoughts about young children playing on iPads or reading on Kindles. My answers always lean towards it being better to play with toys or each other and read books rather than screens. Even when it’s just to occupy them because you need a minute, I would much rather parents hand their three-year-old a crayon and piece of paper than a phone with an open app. When it comes to early reading, my sense has been there is value in experiencing the book, in turning the pages, taking in the pictures and talking about the story. Thankfully, my favorite technology writer Lisa Guernsey has pulled together a fuller answer in her Time Ideas article titled Why EReading With Your Kid Can Impede Learning If your pre- or early reader is already on a screen, check this out for tips on how to use it better and consider setting and enforcing time limits.

Lisa Guernsey is the director of the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative and author of Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children From Birth to Age Five. Great book!

>Learn Thru Play

>Dear Dr. Hackney,

Our four year-old is scheduled to start Kindergarten in the fall of 2008. We want her to be ready. Should we encourage her to “learn through play” or introduce academics?

Rina, Mother of one
Four years-old

Dear Rina,

You can and should be doing both. The idea of “learning through play” is the most appropriate approach to teaching young children prior to school entry. This approach is likely to capture their interest and keep them involved in the learning process. Unfortunately though, many parents assume this means just letting their children go play and, as a result, their children will learn what they need for later school success. By all means, learning through play should be more structured and incorporate academic ideas.

In the years before Kindergarten, learning through play might include activities to teach the alphabet shapes and sounds. The focus is just on keeping the process fun. You can name a ‘Letter of the Week.’ It’s often best to start with the first letter of your child’s name, and then, plan lots of fun activities around that letter. For example, if your child’s name begins with the letter “A” you could have an A-hunt in the grocery store, finding all the upper and/or lower case letters you can. You could make a jar collection of all the small things you can find that start with that letter. You could plan an A-meal day, offering at least one food that starts with A at each meal. You can trace, cut and paint the letter. Then pick another letter the next week.

I would not expect many four year-olds to want to sit and listen to how to write a letter and then repeatedly practice in the same way. Likely, they would be bored or easily frustrated by this approach, and you are sure to lose them before you are half-way through the alphabet. This is the same with the rote use of flashcards or over-reliance on workbook pages.

Teaching numbers and early math concepts can be equally successful using the more playful approach. You can count fun things; then, write the number next to the fun things you just counted. You can introduce money and count change together. You can teach one to one correspondence through setting the table or matching pairs of socks. It is helpful to remember that math is far more than numbers at this young age. Preschool math concepts also include measuring time, space and weight, sorting, categorizing, grouping, seeing and creating patterns, recognizing shapes and matching.

And relax! Most children are more than ready for Kindergarten. Our public schools open their doors to children with a very wide range of life experience and academic learning. On the first day of school, there will be a few Kindergarteners who are just learning their letters and a few others who can already read independently, but most of the children will fall somewhere in between. Of course, the more ready they are the better, but keep it fun. The learning through play approach helps insure that children will be interested in the learning process far past their year in Kindergarten.

Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parneting Playgroups, Inc.

%d bloggers like this: