The academic demands placed on students today are incredibly high, and these demands have trickled down to the youngest learners. As a result, elementary school and even preschool programs have become much more rigorous as children are expected to develop basic learning skills as early as possible. The question, however, is whether a greater focus on academics will actually work better for preschoolers.

Learning through play

Research shows and proves that preschoolers learn best through play, which is why it must be a primary element in their learning. The fact that children are playful by nature and easily turned off by extended formal learning only serves to further support this style of learning. Moreover, these observations are true regardless of a child’s economic or cultural background.

Two year old boy playing with colorful dough at preschool.

Developing life skills

The assumption that nothing much is going on when children play is inaccurate. In fact, a great deal of development takes place at playtime. Kids develop skills, attitudes and habits that will stay with them throughout their lives, such as coping with frustration, seeking to improve, sharing with others and expressing their thoughts or fantasies.

Play is work

You may be surprised to learn that the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) considers play for children to be equal to work for adults, and has gone further to make play a criterion for accrediting programs for young children. Children are happy and excited when they play, and this contributes significantly to helping them develop a positive attitude and approach to learning.

Comparing performance

Play helps preschoolers master the skills they’ll need for their academic learning later on. These include pre-reading skills, motor acuity as well as basic science and geometry. In other words, play lays the foundation that more formal learning will be built on in the ensuing years.

A preschool curriculum that stresses formal learning over play activities can be compared to teaching a child the different swimming strokes before you teach them to float. A study by the University of Florida found that fourth-graders who attended preschools with play-based curricula performed better than their fellow students both academically and socially. Another study revealed that the language abilities of children who engaged in pretend play were more enhanced.

 

What does this mean for parents of preschoolers?

Simply put, your child will gain more from a preschool program that allows them to have fun while learning than one that teaches rote memorization as a primary pathway to learning.

Look for a preschool that features unstructured activity as part of its educational philosophy. And when you visit, note if there is an outdoor area that provides opportunities for fun and exploration. Keep in mind that hands-on play encourages more creativity in children. As such, a school with low-tech toys such as blocks, simple cars and trucks, musical instruments, puppets and dolls can be preferable to one with lots of fancy electronics.

At Spanish for fun!, we understand the value of play, which is why our center provides a variety of options for children to play, discover and share. Our Spanish-immersion daycare in Wake Forest approach allows children to acquire Spanish as a second language in a natural and active learning environment.