How Preschoolers and Kindergarteners Learn

“Amalie tests the obstacle course she built” by Lars Plougmann

Finding the right balance between play-time and academic learning is a problem every parent faces with their child.  We instinctively know that kids need to run around but that they also need intellectual stimulation.  Play provides young children with both.

You might picture learning taking place in a classroom led by a teacher who gives students drills and instructions.  But research on early childhood learning has found that it is more helpful to guide a child than to give her direct instruction.  In fact, one study found that over time, children performed worse in preschools focusing on direct instruction and preschools that combined play-centered and teacher-centered approaches, compared to children in play-based preschools.  Rather than telling a child the “right” way to do something, allowing her to explore with guidance fosters greater creativity in thinking and problem-solving.

“Adventures in Preschool Science” by San Jose Library

For parents concerned with academic achievement, it is important to know that play-based learning does not need to exclude academics.  A child should have opportunity for unstructured play, which can help develop gross and fine motor skills along with imagination.  But bringing adult guidance into exploratory play can take the learning to another level.  A child enjoying the outdoors can learn about science through rocks (geology) and animals (biology).  A child playing with toys can learn about math by adding and subtracting a few members from a group of stuffed animals.

“Mountain kids” by Travis Swan

With all that has been said about play-based learning, there is still a place for direct instruction.  In writing, a child needs to know how to form each letter and how to place them in the right order.  Practice drills and direct instructions can be an effective writing lesson.  (But the lesson might be even better learned if it can also be made into a playful game!)

“Lyra teachers her dinosaurs how to write” by Jenny Lee Silver

There are many early education philosophies that focus on different play-based and/or academic-based activities.  Parents can decide which philosophy best matches their goals and their child’s individual learning style.

On Wednesday, October 28th, 2015, parents can meet representatives of area preschools and kindergartens at Parent Talk’s 11th Annual Preschool & Kindergarten Fair.  The fair will be held at  Christ Episcopal Church in Needham from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.  Registration is not required for this popular event.  Admission is free for Parent Talk members and $10 for non-members.

About the Author
Darlene W. Cancell is an attorney turned stay-at-home mom, and most recently blog coordinator for Parent Talk.

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