Modern preschools are more academically focused than ever before, but this is having some unexpected and unwanted consequences. Some children are not learning basic social skills and lack the ability to play, pretend and be curious. Are kids no longer being allowed to be kids?
When teachers and directors of today's preschools think back upon their own time as young students, they likely remember a very different classroom experience. Preschools have changed dramatically over the past 40 years. In America, there has been a big movement toward academic readiness, and this push by parents and administrators means less play and more focus on building basic math and reading skills.
This evolution often means the sacrifice of play. Free time has been replaced by workbooks, lessons and seated work. Tenured preschool teachers often observe the differences in their students today compared to those even a decade or two ago. They are more wiggly, less attentive and struggle to develop good social skills. Some kids may even fail to play well in a group or by themselves.
The Washington Post article, "The decline of play in preschools and the rise of sensory issues," explores this phenomenon.
"Preschool years are not only optimal for children to learn through play, but also a critical developmental period. If children are not given enough natural movement and play experiences, they start their academic careers with a disadvantage. They are more likely to be clumsy, have difficulty paying attention, trouble controlling their emotions, utilize poor problem-solving methods, and demonstrate difficulties with social interactions. We are consistently seeing sensory, motor and cognitive issues pop up more and more in later childhood, partly because of inadequate opportunities to move and play at an early age," the article states.
The body and mind are at an important period of development during the preschool years. Play continues to be the best way for young students to form many different kinds of skills. Through play they not only learn to stretch their imaginations and get along with others, but they also learn academic skills, too. Sorting, counting and building all support academic development, not to mention the small and large muscle refinement that naturally happens during playtime.
As a teacher, try to provide plenty of opportunities for play throughout the school day. Unstructured playtime can be a key part of your curriculum. Incorporate free play, dramatic play, pretend play, group play and quiet play as it fits in your day. You'll find kids will enjoy school more and have better focus! Long-term benefits abound!
Outdoor play is essential, too. Get the kids outside to explore nature with each other. The fresh air does wonders for students and there's a whole world of learning outdoors if you take the time to notice it. When it is time to come inside and focus, try to implement play-based learning strategies rather than worksheets and flashcards. There will be plenty of those in later academic years. Right now, let kids be kids in order for them to thrive.
Modern preschools are more academically focused than ever before, but this is having some unexpected and unwanted consequences. Some children are not learning basic social skills and lack the ability to play, pretend and be curious.