“They don’t see the critical importance of play as the context for early learning and development.”
This frustration with “others” causes us to look for the latest evidence, more credible evidence, more conclusive evidence, etc.
And don’t get me wrong…there is plenty of current, credible, and convincing evidence.
For starters click here, and then stay tuned, Ashley Lyons and I are working on a few more sharable resources on the power of play.
Yet…there are STILL “non-believers”.
I think at least part of the quandary is that we aren’t unpacking what we mean by the four letter word…P.L.A.Y.
So I read Background Research on Early Mathematics and pulled the following quotes, which might be helpful as you engage in conversations about play.
For example, when talking about research-based mathematical programs for young children, that have “been proven effective”, the authors state that, “Both use a mix of instructional methods (including explicit, but not “direct” or didactic, instruction, which has negative outcomes for the youngest children).”
Notice the part of the quote that talks about explicit but not direct.
This is part of the play conversation we need to have. In harnessing the power of play, teachers/adults are intentional; yet avoid pulling the child over, aside, or out. Teachers/adults are clear on what they are teaching; yet avoid telling the child what to do. And, teachers/adults are partners in play, not busy prepping materials or completing inauthentic assessments.
In the research brief, the authors also talk about:
- repeated experiences – children’s need to “use the skill or knowledge in multiple difference situations, which promotes both automaticity and transfer to new situations.”
- challenging materials – vs. materials like flashcards which “promote fast initial learning…but does not help store knowledge in long-term memory.”
- active processing (comes from being engaged) – which helps children “remember information longer and retrieve it more easily.”
As I continue to read, reflect, and provide professional development on how to be a play partner…here are a few of my key take away messages:
- There are different stages and types of play
- When working with young children, teachers/adults need to understand how play skills develop, how to support children when they struggle (e.g., how to move them from concrete to abstract), and create tiered opportunities just as they would with literacy or math instruction.
- Play-time, along with focus-time, down-time, etc. allow teachers/adults to serve what neuroscientist Dr. Dan Siegel and colleagues refer to as a healthy mind platter.
- Play skills are critical to early development and long term outcomes
- Researchers consistently report and provide evidence that areas of development are related (emerge concurrently) and that play skills have a bi-directional relationship (i.e., as one increases so do the others) with other critical skills such as self-regulation/executive functioning.
- Research supports how play skills, which support language development, self-regulation, mathematics, etc. creates a strong foundation for development and learning, plus has a lasting impact.
- Self-directed and sustained play leads to desired outcomes
- Children learn best when they have choice, there are multiple and varied learning opportunities, they take the lead and direct their own learning, and when they are able to meaningfully connect novel skills and concepts with things that are familiar.
- Children learn best when supported through responsive relationships (have strong play partners) who are able to guide discovery, capitalize upon teachable moments, and intentionally embed explicit instruction into the context of daily activities and interactions.
And before I let you go…here’s one last reminder…especially when play is encouraged in Pre-K but then discontinued by Kindergarten.
But if we want our investment in preschool to pay off, we cannot ignore what comes after. We need to make sure that what follows preschool takes good advantage of the gains achieved. Dr. Deborah Stipek, 2017