What Are Children Learning When They Play

                                 Excerpt from SMART START The Parents' Guide To Preschool Education by Marian Edelman Borden

Circle Time

An opportunity for the youngsters to learn how to organize their thoughts. As they talk about their experiences, children learn how to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end. When a child learns the words to "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" or "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly," this is an important part of a child's informal education. 

Music Appreciation/Creative Movement

Music helps children connect the outer world of movement and sound with the inner world of feelings and observations. Playing games or moving to music is a powerful first experience in the artistic process. Children learn music the same way they learn language--by listening and imitating.

Finger play promotes language development, fine-motor skills, and coordination, as well as self-esteem. Young children are proud when they sing a song and can do the accompanying finger movements.

Listening to music also teaches important prereading skills. As youngsters use small drums or other percussion instruments (homemade or store-bought), they can play the rhythmic pattern of words. They can learn to hear the differences between fast and slow, loud and soft, one at a time and together, etc. When they try new instruments, they notice how each variation changes the music.

Creative movement expands a child's imagination. It's also a fun method of physical fitness--an important goal of child development.

Art Projects

 A good art project teaches a child that his creativity is limited only by his own imagination. By transforming everyday objects, such as empty paper towel rolls and egg cartons into sculptures, imaginary bugs, or spyglasses, a child discovers that he can create a world of play.

Using materials in an art project reinforces and expands on the information a child has already learned in other contexts. For example, let's assume that the art project of the day is to make rubbings of leaves collected during a nature walk the day before. If from a pile on the table, the child selects a dry leaf that crumbles easily, the youngster learns, in a concrete way, about life cycles in nature. Through trial and error, just like the scientist in a lab, the student might find that green leaves or shiny leaves hold up better for this art project.

Another art project might have the youngsters create a fall mural by pasting leaves, pine cones, and acorns on a large roll of paper. They might organize the project by sorting and classifying the leaves, by color, shape, and size. These are prereading and premath skills--as well as fun. In this same project, the group also learns social skills such as cooperative and group dynamics. Do the three-year-olds know this as they happily create a fall mural--probably not, but their teachers certainly do.

Art projects are also excellent for developing a child's fine-motor skills. It takes small-muscle control in order to manipulate clay, cut with scissors, paint with a brush, and color with markers or crayons. As these skills are practiced, they help a child gain mastery to cut with a knife, button his own shirt, and print his name.

Art projects build a child's self-esteem. The finished product, on display on the refrigerator, validates a child's sense of worth. It's another opportunity for a child to say "I can do it!"

The process, not the product, is the most important element of preschool art projects.

 Outdoor Play

Outdoor play refines a child's gross-motor (large-muscle) skills. The cross-lateral movement (right arm/left leg and vice versa) involved is critical to a child's later success in reading and writing. Playground time is also an opportunity to explore and manipulate a different environment.

Youngsters also love outdoor play because they can let loose their imaginations while getting physical. They can turn the jungle gym into a rocket ship, a castle, a firehouse--anything they choose.

 Snack Time

Snack time is an opportunity for a child to learn social skills as she chats with her friend in the seat next to her. Passing out the snack and distributing a napkin and cup to each child teaches one-to-one correspondence and counting skills. Pouring the juice from a small pitcher to an individual cup requires small-motor control. Cleanup time after snack is another educational opportunity. Again, a child's sense of competence and independence are reinforced. Snack time is also an opportunity for a child to associate mealtime with pleasant feelings.

Centers- Building with Blocks

Blocks help children learn scientific, mathematical, art, social studies, and language concepts; use small-motor skills; and foster competence and self-esteem. Building with blocks also teaches life skills. Just putting away your groceries in the cupboard is using the same concepts of spatial relations, stability, and balance that you learned in the block corner.

Besides the scientific concepts discussed in the previous paragraph, blocks also are important in developing math skills. A child learns about depth, width, height, length, measurement, volume, area, classification, shape, symmetry, mapping, equality (same as), and inequality (more than, less than)--all from building with blocks.

Building with blocks also teaches art concepts such as patterns, symmetry, and balance. A child learns about symbolic representation, interdependence of people, mapping, grids, patterns, people and their work. A child gains prereading skills such as shape recognition, differentiation of shapes, size relations. Language is enhanced as children talk about how to build, what they built, what is its function or ask questions about concepts or directions. And dramatic play is also a part of block building as children create stories to go along with their constructions.

Finally, building with blocks fosters a feeling of competence, teaches cooperation and respect for the work of others, encourages autonomy and initiative.

It's not just building with blocks that is educational--so is cleanup. Sorting and storing blocks teaches classification and one-to-one correspondence, which are important math skills.

Centers- Dramatic Play

 Playing make-believe lets a child bring the complicated grown-up world down to size. Research demonstrates that children who are active in pretend play are usually more joyful and cooperative, more willing to share and take turns, and have larger vocabularies than children who are less imaginative.

Imaginative play helps youngsters to concentrate, to be attentive, and to use self-control. Think about how a child develops a game of supermarket. He must first set up the counter, put out the pretend cans of food, invite friends to shop, use the "cash register," and bag the groceries. All of these actions help a child to learn about sequential acts. He also has a story or script in mind that helps him to perform each of these steps in a logical and orderly way.

When children pretend they also learn to be flexible, substituting objects for those they do not have. For example, a child will use an empty paper towel roll for a telescope.

Through imaginative play, children learn empathy for others. Children will often act out a whole range of emotions when playing pretend, offering sympathy for a stuffed "doggie" that is hurt or for a doll that fell off a chair. We watch them scold a puppet for being naughty or tell a doll how proud they are because she used the potty.

Dramatic play encourages children to think abstractly, which is an important prereading skill. Children come to understand that words represent ideas.

Centers-Manipulative Toys

Manipulative toys help develop a child's fine-motor skills, which is a precursor to being able to write. Often these toys are also used in fantasy play. The beads that are strung become the necklace for the "queen" to wear. The Play-Doh creations include cookies for the impromptu "tea party."

Cooperative Play

Working together, whether it's on a block building or planning a tea party, helps children to learn to respect the ideas of others. They develop their social skills, and social competence is an underlying goal of early childhood education. Children in cooperative play learn to contribute to joint efforts. They also learn how to problem solve by working together to find a solution.

Centers-Sand/Water Table

A child has a practical math lesson in fractions when she pours a cup full of sand into a two-cup container. It explains the concept faster and more clearly than a detailed discussion or drawing. Her fine-motor skills are also being developed as she washes a tea set or maneuvers a cup full of sand into a sifter. Her eye-hand coordination is helped.

As anyone who has sat on a beach knows, sand and water play is soothing. It encourages children to explore and learn about cause and effect. (For example, what happens if I put a sponge in the water? What happens if I then squeeze the sponge?).

Centers- Puzzles

Puzzles require abstract thinking: the ability to see a space and envision what belongs there. Puzzles also require fine-motor control in order to place the pieces into place. Having puzzles for varied skill levels permits children at all stages of development to experience success.

Centers- Books

Children learn language skills from books. Whether they are looking at a book individually, or being read to as part of a group, when you make books a part of a young child's day you set the stage for a lifelong interest in reading.

Cleanup

Preschoolers learn to sort, classify, match, and organize when they put the toys back on the shelf. A good preschool classroom will have low shelves and individual bins for small toys, so that the young child can easily see where objects belong. The bins will be labeled (which helps develop language skills).

Preschoolers learn that helping behaviors and orderliness are valued. They see that it's important to take care of their environment and that it's easier to find what you want when you put it back in its designated place. Cleaning up teaches self-discipline. Children learn how to follow simple directions. Working together as a class to clean up their room is another exercise in cooperation. As they work alongside their teacher and classmates, chatting and discussing the best way to approach the cleanup effort, language and social skills are being practiced. Preschoolers also enjoy feeling competent, independent, and responsible. With the instant feedback of a clean room and a job well done, a youngster's self-esteem is enhanced.

Copyright © 1997 Marian Edelman Borden

 

 


 

  

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