Structured play, not rigor, for young pre-schoolers

Structured play, not rigor, for young pre-schoolers

Rigor and workload are not two words that should be used in conjunction with preschool. Ever. To read Ms. Carter's letter to the editor last week it became obvious that there are probably many other well meaning parents who simply do not understand how young children learn. As an early childhood educator, it is my job to know how children grow, develop, and learn. It is also my duty to assist them to do so in age appropriate ways.

Any preschool that is having young children sit through rigorous worksheet sessions has no understanding of the research of best practice for teaching young children. Preschool children learn best through hands-on experiences, most often in the form of play. Parents who are not familiar with child development may not fully understand this concept, but it is a concept deeply seeded in research and taught in any early childhood teacher preparation program. Play is the work of children. Through purposefully planned play activities and scaffolding from the teachers, children reach milestones and learn educational concepts without a single worksheet. Qualified early childhood professionals work hard to create their lessons, which always have goals and objectives embedded in them. For example, when a teacher provides blocks for the children to play with, she is allowing them to work on math concepts such as: sequencing, classifying, patterning, counting, and working with height and width. In addition, teachers can model the use of mathematical language by talking with the children about what they are doing, and can assist the children in expanding upon their play as needed by asking questions, and/or adding new materials.

When children learn a concept on their own it is more deeply internalized and leaves the child feeling successful. When a child is forced to sit and work on a worksheet they are not internalizing, and if they are struggling with it, they are most certainly not learning anything, they are simply going through the motions. These 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds in Cumberland's preschool program have only a short time to enjoy learning before it becomes all desk work, all preparation for the test. What is the rush? Let them be little and learn in the way that they do best. I urge you to let them play!

Erin Murray