One of the most fascinating points that were brought up was how play allows a child to foster and explore their own creativity. But we take away that opportunity so early in their childhood because we want them to succeed academically, a result that’s very subjective. Their success is determined by a score on a test that isn’t capable of measuring a child’s capabilities at all.
The point is, play is taken away at an early age, hindering any development of a child’s creativity and curiosity and is replaced with paper and pencil. As play opportunities diminish, adult-like expectations are placed on a child instead. Many of these children grow up and are expected to be creative in their careers. The speaker brought up the fact that business leaders spend tons of money on programs for their employees to attend to help them become more creative, something they may have possibly developed if they were given the opportunity to be a child when they were growing up.
I teach pre-k. There are many opportunities for my students to play, pretend, explore, and experience other developmentally appropriate things a four year is expected to experience. When I first began as a pre-k teacher, I did not fully stand behind the play approach. I wanted to prepare my kids for a rigorous kindergarten, so for the first 3 months, there was a lot of letter writing practice, letter number recognition, letter sounds. Some kids were engaged because they knew them. Majority of my students were not ready and lost focus. I soon realized that a child will learn those when he or she is ready and I shouldn't push them to learn it prematurely. It’s hard explaining that to a parent who just wants their child to learn their numbers, letters, and know how to read as soon as possible. I usually explain to them that they do have the option of learning those in a choice center and most of the letter and number learning is embedded in our play.
I would also refer to a study that shows that children who go into kindergarten knowing their letters and numbers have a short lasted advantage than their peers who do not. Eventually their peers will catch up. To my surprise, towards the end of last year, many of my kids became interested in writing. They learned because they were legitimately motivated.
In December, our school started the enrichment after school program that runs from 3:00-3:50. Students are picked by their teachers based on who needs language development. In an enrichment setting without any academic pressures, children tend to be more comfortable speaking. I decided to sign up to teach a building class for second graders. By second grade, the students do not have play centers. The only form of play they get during the day is recess. When I picked up the second graders on the first day of our enrichment after school and explained what we were doing, their facial expression showed how excited they were.
Second graders in our school are learning about New York throughout the year. With the vast amount of LEGO bricks my classroom received through donorschoose.org, I gave them the opportunity to build something New York related. We had a short discussion about how LEGO can be used to make art, and brainstormed ideas on what we can build.
The students were very focused on their creations. They worked individually on their project but were very collaborative when it came to helping each other find certain pieces another may need. It was a nice change to be able to carry a conversation with a group of students. Students were bouncing ideas off of each other and complimenting their peers’ work.
I wish this was something teachers can see every day in their classroom. Instead of pressuring our students to pass a test and stressing them out for reasons that aren’t worth stressing over, our students should be able to creative, manipulate, explore, and question things that interest them with the necessary academic skills embedded in their interest.