A Mandate for Playful Learning in Preschool

Presenting the Evidence Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Laura E. Berk, Dorothy G. Singer This is a wonderful little book for anyone who is interested in child development and early childhood education. The first sentences reads: This small monograph is a much needed antidote to today’s common approach that is antithetical to the knowledge bases of both the fields of human development and early childhood education. In homes and schools across America, parents and teachers are concentrating on cognitive development, which is being treated as much more important than other human subsystems such as the social and emotional domains and even physical and mental health.  P. ix nursery_1958606b It has become accepted that it is normal for children to go to school and work all day learning what is presented and how it is presented whether or not it interests them. The most efficient way to present information is through explicit instruction. This does not mean that it is the best way for children to learn, remember, and apply the information. Didactic instruction is often not even the best way for adults to learn. As such behavior illustrates, a false dichotomy has been constructed between play and learning. To the child, the two activities are one and the same…P.x   Play has become a four-letter word… Curriculum development has been more responsive to the practical constraints of assessment than to the findings of evidence-based pedagogy… preschools are no longer teaching the “whole” child. Pp.3-4               Parents feel pressure as never before to accelerate and augment their children’s learning… Whole children attend school… Nurturing children’s social and emotional skills in preschool enables them to profit from school instruction. P.6 kids_playing_20100625_1521766153 Academically regimented classrooms, with their repetitive, boring tasks that exceed the attention spans and patience of 3- to 5- year-olds, frequently engender withdrawal, rebellion, and emotional “meltdowns”. P.11 crying-513164_640               Measured as early as 3 to 5 years of age, three core abilities collectively referred to as cognitive control, predict reading and math achievement from kindergarten through high school. These abilities are (1) inhibition, (2) holding and operating on information in working memory, and (3) flexibly adjusting attention to changes in task requirements. P.28   Literacy rests on an oral language foundation… A singular focus on print, Dickinson concluded, is clearly to the detriment of children who need the rich language exchanges that occur during play… Neuman and Rokos reported that words embedded in playful contexts are learned better and faster. P.29   Problem solving in most school subjects requires a great deal of make-believe; visualizing how the Eskimos live, reading stories, imagining a story and writing it down, solving arithmetic problems, and determining what will come next. History, geography, and literature are all make-believe. All of these are conceptual constructions that are never directly experienced by the child. P.41               A review of the literature by Hart, Burts, and Charlesworth revealed that enrollment in less developmentally appropriate classrooms (i.e., classrooms where direct instructional practices are used) was associated with more child stress and with less positive academic outcomes at the end of the school year than did their peers in developmentally appropriate classrooms. In addition, children in direct-instruction classrooms had worse behavioral outcomes and worse motivational outcomes. P.44               Once children begin to perceive themselves as relatively less able to profit from classroom instruction than their peers, those perceptions have long-term effects on children’s self-esteem and feelings about school. P.48               Increasingly, the programs that offer the best traction for children’s achievement and socioemotional growth take a hybrid approach. That is, within developmentally appropriate education, there is room for real instruction that is playful. Play and learning are not incompatible. Children can and should learn content, whether mathematics, language, and preliteracy, in socially rich and meaningful contexts rather than in didactic environments that are not engaging or responsive. Lifelong learners are not created through overly didactic curricula where children are passive recipients. P.51 2010_Chile_earthquake_-_Kids_playing_in_Talcahuano