Christina Seeley Op-Ed: Learning Through Play EPSY Fall 2018 Cairo It’s Just Play Kindergarten teachers have it made- they spend their days watching children play in a setting that naturally creates itself with no thought or effort on the part of the teacher! They are glorified babysitters! This is the perception that many people have about Kindergarten teachers, which couldn’t be more wrong! Yes, children play in Kindergarten. Yes, teachers spend a lot of time observing (i.e. assessing) those children while they are playing. Yes, the children and the teachers are happy and play together. But creating a meaningful, engaging, and educational Kindergarten setting for children to play in is not easy, nor should Kindergarten be dismissed as a place where children “just play”. Play is a child’s work, which allows them to learn a myriad of concepts naturally. Megan McClelland, an early childhood development researcher says “Play is one of the most cognitively stimulating things a child can do.” Kindergarten children are in the stage which Piaget calls the Pre-Operational stage of development. In this stage, children are building experiences about the world through play and through observing the world around them. The schemas that they have developed are constantly being challenged- they are adapting current schemas and creating new ones. This process of assimilation and accommodation is an integral part of child development. Children are engaging in symbolic play, where they use different objects to represent other objects in the world. They are giving inanimate objects (most usually stuffed animals and baby dolls) the characteristics of humans and using them to express feelings and emotions that they themselves are feeling, which is called animism. Through play experiences, children are enhancing their own schemas about people, actions, and life which allows them to construct deeper schemas about the world around them. Christina Seeley Op-Ed: Learning Through Play EPSY Fall 2018 Cairo So what can children learn when they are playing? If we use the idea of role-playing house, we can see that children are learning important life skills. The first skill being learned in this area is that of communication and language. Vygotsky believed that when children play, they use language. They discuss roles of each person in the play. They correct each other and copy each other’s language. Children playing house are imitating real-life experiences, using the language that they hear at home and on the television. They are asking each other to take care of the baby, saying goodbye when mommy goes to work, they are making dinner and discussing the food they will eat, they are talking on the phone with each other, or making a grocery list (writing for a purpose versus writing because you are told to do so). Children are learning vocabulary that is relevant to them- sofa, television, cook, kitchen, refrigerator, table, chair…the list is endless. Rather than learning this vocabulary by a teacher showing a flashcard of a sofa in isolation, children are rearranging the sofa and chairs in the home corner while discussing what they will watch on the “television” that they made out of a cardboard box and foil. Learning words in context when playing, rather than on flashcards, helps children embed the vocabulary into their long-term memory in a stress-free manner while having fun and being engaged and happy in what they are doing. At the same time that children are learning language when playing house, they are learning social skills. They are learning to play with others in a common activity, to ask for help cooking dinner, to take turns pouring out tea, and to count out how many cookies they need so that everyone can have some with their tea. Children are sharing a limited number of resources in a relatively small area, negotiating who will use what and who will wait for a turn. Another important aspect of this type of play is that children, who are naturally egocentric at this stage of development, learn that their viewpoint is not the only viewpoint- they are learning that the world does not revolve around them and others have different ideas. They have to compromise with others with different thoughts, ideas, and opinions than Christina Seeley Op-Ed: Learning Through Play EPSY Fall 2018 Cairo they have. Children are also learning to make and sustain friendships while playing- how do we ask someone to play and what do we need to do to keep play going smoothly. Ideas such as cooperation, compromise, and conflict resolution are developed here. All play situations help children learn important social skills. I know that people at this point in the article are thinking “What about math and literacy? How can children learn math and literacy through play?” Teaching math and literacy through play is simple and is, in my opinion, the most successful way to teach these concepts. “Play is an effective vehicle for fostering Mathematical concepts and developing positive attitudes to mathematics… Adults in the setting should seek to extend informally the mathematical experiences the children have already had in their home environment.” (Maths Through Play). As mentioned above, counting out cookies to share with our friends when playing house teaches us to count (with one-to-one correspondence), share equally, and sort out cookies of different kinds. When pouring out tea, we are learning about capacity. When washing the dishes, children can often be found counting how many cups there are. Teachers can extend this by writing numbers on the cups and plates and asking the children to order the them in the sink or on the table. Teachers can also ask for cup of tea number 3. Weighing can be introduced with a supermarket role play area, with scales to weigh the fruit. Again, teachers can extend this by asking for a heavy bag of rice and a light bag of rice. When teachers use mathematical language when playing with children, children will naturally use that language spontaneously. In the UK Early Years Profile, there is a specific objective of “Uses number names and mathematical language spontaneously and in their play.” (EYFS, 2017). When teaching literacy, the same model of teacher facilitation is necessary. When playing house, children can be encouraged to write a list of shopping to be done if the teacher puts notepads and pens in the role play area. Or they can write a Christmas Card to their family members or a letter to Christina Seeley Op-Ed: Learning Through Play EPSY Fall 2018 Cairo Santa. Having labels around the classroom (print rich environment) helps children become familiar with print concept and develop phonemic awareness. Real books, magazines, and newspapers in the classroom encourage children to read. Daddy can read the newspaper after dinner or mommy can read a magazine while the baby sleeps. Stories can be read to the baby doll or stuffed cat. Teachers can encourage story telling during by having lots of props available to the children, such as costumes, masks, puppets, and lots of books. Board games with phonemes or CVC words can be played with a teacher to encourage reading skills. At the same time, games such as picture/word dominoes, sort the toys by beginning sounds, or memory with pictures and sounds/words always draw children’s attention while allowing them to play. Technology can play a big role in enhancing literacy skills- games on websites or apps such as education.com, discoveryespresso.com, starfall.com, or the app BlobbleWrite all promote literacy through story sessions, games linked to stories, phonological and phonemic awareness games, writing, and letter formation games. When teachers facilitate learning by providing a learning environment centered around play based learning, children enjoy school and learning. Kindergarten students naturally have a high play drive and are inquisitive beings; catering to those attributes not only promotes learning in Kindergarten but also develops a life-long love for learning and school which will follow them throughout their education and beyond. So when people tell me that all I do is play all day and babysit, I challenge them to come and spend a day in the classroom with up to 30 five-year-old children. The amount of setup, planning, preparation, and mental and physical energy that goes into teaching these children far surpasses that of most other professions. Play, Love, Learn! Christina Seeley Op-Ed: Learning Through Play EPSY Fall 2018 Cairo Sources Cherry, K., & Gans, S. (2018, September 26). Preoperational Stage of Cognitive Development in Young Children. Retrieved December 11, 2018, from https://www.verywellmind.com/preoperational-stage-ofcognitive-development-2795461 Early Years Foundation Stage Profile[PDF]. (2017). London: UK Standards & Testing Agency. Literacy-Rich Environments. (2015, August 31). Retrieved December 12, 2018, from http://www.readingrockets.org/article/literacy-rich-environments McLeod, S. (2018). The Preoperational Stage of Cognitive Development. Retrieved December 11, 2018, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/preoperational.html Mielonen, A. M., & Paterson, W. (2009). Developing Literacy Through Play. Journal of Inquiry & Action in Education,3(1), 15-46. Retrieved December 10, 2018, from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED400530.pdf.