Play is essential to learning, and a topic that should not be ignored within the classroom and school community. Play is an important factor to children; through play their development increases socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively. It is not only an important part of a child’s development as a student but also a child’s development as an individual. The idea of letting children play all day in school to some is appalling and is often unheard of. Many parents and educators think a child’s best way of learning is through books and repetitive practices.
Children in preschool spend most of their day, building with blocks, coloring, and socializing with peers and teachers. Play is valuable in a school. It enables children too freely express themselves. Play leads children to grow and aids in positive development. For many children it allows them in a sense to escape their actual daily lives to explore, and use their imagination. The question that surfaces through many peoples minds is if child spends a majority of the day playing is the child learning? “Starting sooner means learning more; the early bird catches the worm.
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Working in a preschool classroom is one of the most controversial and misunderstood jobs there is when working for a school system. When you say you’re a pre-k teacher you’re often looked down upon and thought of as less of a teacher. Many assume because they are four and five years old that you cannot and do not teach them, because people often assume “we play all day”.
That is the most inaccurate statement in my opinion that surfaces when the thought of pre-k teacher comes to mind. Yes, we do play a majority of the day, but we teach and encourage learning through everything we do throughout the school instructional day. When washing the children’s hands before a meal we do not encourage and support down time. While the children wait we often sing songs such as ABC’s, play I-spy, or we count. “Using play to develop academic knowledge— as well as social skills— in young children is the backbone of alternative educational philosophies.” (Rich 3) Encouraging play throughout the day during centers such as dramatic play pretending to be a doctor and treating a patient, in the library center having the children pretend to be a teacher while reading a book to his/her class, or in the block center building a bridge or a house you can establish self confidence, encourage and increase speech and vocabulary, and promote gross motor and fine motor skills.
Any type of development in a child’s life can be established through play. For young children play can encourage and promote gross and fine motor skills, for example cutting on a dotted line requires a lot of concentration and fine motor skills. Activities during gym class and playground time such as running, jumping, monkey bars, or even going down a slide, requires gross motor skills. These are beneficial and life changing skills for a child and they need to be encouraged and taught from a young age. According to David Whitebread’s statement children through play can and need to learn “to preserve, to control attention, to control emotions.” Through play you can also teach the children to work together with another student or individual to get a task done and aid in the building of relationships between children and children and children with teachers.
Play allows children to develop speech and language skills as well listening skills. Children talk and listen while they play. As a teacher it is important to encourage and be aware of each child’s interests and engage them in activities that they find interesting. Child engagement between peers and teachers will allow for greater opportunities for language acquisition. There are many ways in a classroom to promote the use of vocabulary and speech. While sitting at the art center coloring with a non-English speaking child, you can observe the colors the child is using. For example if a child picks up a red crayon you can have the child repeat “red” if the child drew a flower point to the flower and have the child say “flower”. Putting an object or picture to a word will allow a child to begin to pick up vocabulary. Using self-talk in a classroom for children who are not as verbal as others or do not understand the language will allow for exposure to vocabulary as well. Encouraging the more verbal children to join in while playing will allow a nonverbal child to acquire some vocabulary from the teacher and the other children in that center and eventually feel comfortable using and expanding their vocabulary on their own. It will also build a bond and a sense of comfort between the children.
Children in preschool often engage in make-believe play as a form of learning. Make-believe play may involve dress-up, role playing, acting out past events the child has experienced, or dressing and feeding a doll. Make believe play often encourages and increases a child’s creativity and imagination. During playground time a child may spot a stick on the playground and suddenly that single stick becomes a paddle for a boat and the child makes a connection from a movie they watched and begins to pretend he/she is a sailor. Before you know it because that child made that connection between a stick and a paddle, you suddenly have a whole class of students pretending to be sailors paddling a boat down a river. You can take that time on the playground and bring it back to your classroom and have a discussion about boats and the importance of boats and water in our lives. Through a child’s actions and imagination it can lead to a discussion and a good time to expand their knowledge.
In my classroom, my children explored the topic of community helpers, learning that a teacher was in fact a community helper. After the whole group discussion about community helpers, the children went off to centers. During centers, while working with a group of children, I overheard one of my shy, and ELL children talking. To me this was shocking! I quickly and discretely went over and began listening. She had two or three students sitting on the floor while she sat on a chair and she was reading a book to “her students” that I had read earlier in the week. She was telling the children to refer to her as “Ms. Piccirillo” because she was the teacher. While listening to the interaction between the students, it was clear she did not remember the words on the page or even what the book was about but she was using the technique we often use in class before reading a story which we call a picture walk to tell the story before reading. She used a technique we use all the time in the classroom, to play teacher revealing details of the pictures on the pages, myself as an adult did not notice. She used her time in centers to not only play but to further her knowledge and use the vocabulary we all thought she did not grasp. Through play we were able to see that this child although may be quiet, and wasn’t familiar with all the English language did in fact understand and was able to comprehend the knowledge we were feeding and providing to her in class.
Teaching a child through play to some may be nonsense but when you see the benefits it has first hand it is almost a no brainer. “Playtime, which can include child-driven or non-child driven activities, allows children to gain cognitive abilities by learning the right and wrong way of doing something, exercising physical abilities to help them explore challenges and limits, and developing their linguistic abilities through social interaction with other children and adults” (Hannon 2017) Play is how children learn, it encourages social skills, promotes vocabulary and encourages self confidence. Learning how to interact with others, compromise, and work together all happen when playing. According to Scholastics “play has the most profound effect on language and literacy.” No matter who you are whether it be as a parent or a teacher, it’s rewarding to know that even fun activities have the potential to teach children cognitive skills, speech, vocabulary, and gross and fine motor skills that will benefit and set a foundation for children to grow.