Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bring Play Back to the Classroom

In one of my classes in 2008, we read an article about play and how it has changed over the past 20 years. I’ll include a link to the article at the end of the entry. Basically, the article discussed how many kids don’t get that involved in imaginative play anymore. Older children play like toddlers. They do the same repetitive actions like stacking blocks or in dramatic play; they stick with the familiar themes of family or school without expanding to any other roles even within those themes. One reason is that children play together less. They have less time with friends since people are living further apart or don’t have the time to visit. They play alone more with videogames or other toys that aren’t interactive. The toys are becoming more and more realistic. The foods that are found in kitchen areas of preschools and at children’s homes are extremely realistic. I’ve seen pizzas that have all the toppings, the plate to go with it and the slices came apart like an actual pizza. I’ve seen realistic looking tacos, cheese burgers and even donuts. The toy selection is amazing, but it doesn’t leave anything to the imagination. If there’s a food out there, a plastic replica can be found. The foods are only one example. These toys have their place when teaching children who do not yet have that imagination. It’s a good starting point to show them the realistic foods and then gradually introduce other multi use objects to their play. In the article, they suggest cardboard boxes for a baby’s crib, a sink or a computer.

It’s sad that there is a lack of play because today’s children are missing out on so much fun. There’s less spending time outside digging in the dirt or looking in the woods. Children don’t play with friends outside playing games or riding bikes. This has obvious consequences like weight gain from the lack of physical activity, but it has consequences that are less visible like lacking social skills. The less time spent with other children, the less practice these children have. Of course, the lack of social skills and imagination is the same for indoor play. I remember having fun making my own props when I was little. Even though I had a doll house with semi-realistic looking people and furniture, I chose to use a cardboard box, pieces of sponge and other materials around the house to make my own little doll house. My mother didn’t understand why I wanted to make my own, but I thought the whole process of creating my own doll house scene was really cool! I liked it better than the store-bought one. I used blankets as tents, built castles or beds for my dolls with blocks etc. I was always creating something. When I’ve asked other people about this, they say similar things about the play in their childhood.

Now that we know that children’s lack of play has a negative effect on them, we should do what we can to change it. However, there has been a push to bring academics into early childhood programs. Parents and some teachers want children doing worksheets as young as possible because they think it’ll make them smarter. The problem is that many children aren’t ready. If children are pushed to learn things that are too difficult for them, their performance in school will suffer. They will become frustrated because they can’t do an activity and they may feel like their stupid or a failure if it keeps happening which could make some children give up on school altogether. Some kids just say they understand some things to get by, but they really don’t. This is why play is so important. The concepts that children learn during play support academic learning. During play, children learn to problem solve which they need for later learning. For example, a kid could be building with blocks and it starts to fall over, they need to figure out how to keep it standing. Another example is if two children want to be the mom in a game of house, they have to find a solution together. This also improves social skills as children learn how to take turns and play cooperatively.

Children can use play to develop beginning reading skills. They may practice writing pretend shopping lists, making tickets or play money. Even if the writing isn’t clear, it may resemble letters and it’s a way for children to practice using a pencil. Books are also a good way to expand play. They can take things they see in books and add them to their play themes. Many children I’ve worked with pretend reading to dolls or stuffed animals which of course expands on literacy skills. Every time a child looks at a book, they are getting used to the way people read even if they can’t read the words. They are noticing the pictures, how the words go from left to right and how the pages go from top to bottom. These are all things that children need to understand before they will be able to read.

Math skills can also be learned through play. Measuring cups and water in a sensory table can be a tool for learning about volume or quantity of water. They are learning that even if you pour water from one cup to another, you’ll still have the same amount. Water play can also be used to learn about science concepts. A simple activity that most kids love is taking different objects and seeing if they float or sink. Using sand is another great way for kids to learn skills in many areas. They can learn about measurement, tracks and prints, texture and fine motor skills by shoveling sand into a bucket. These fine motor skills are the same skills used when writing with a pencil or turning the pages of a book.

There are many advantages and skills that are learned through play including skills from all academic areas. In order for children to do well in school, they need more play in the earliest part of their education. Past generations were able to play a lot more and did just as well or probably better in school. Kids were allowed to be kids and by kindergarten and first grade, children were prepared to learn. Not through doing worksheets or looking at flash cards, but through play. If something wasn’t broken, why try to fix it?

Click here to read the article, Chopsticks and Counting Chips!

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