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Get Your Game On! The Importance of Play in Early Childhood

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Get Your Game On! The Importance of Play in Early Childhood
By Danyelle Knight
Submitted by Fairmont Private Schools

It goes without saying that we live in a fast-paced, highly competitive world. Parents raise children in a frenzy of activity and work hard to equip them with the skills they will need to be successful. As parents, this is our duty, and we partner with a host of others, family members, friends, caregivers and teachers, in order to provide our children the very best educational opportunities to get ahead and stay ahead.

From conception on, modern parents undertake the education of children with seriousness-too much seriousness it turns out. In many cases, parents' best intentions for their children morph into the need to push them to accomplishing academic skills for which they are simply not developmentally prepared. Educators, feeling the pressures of parents and politics, help fuel the fire by instituting curriculum and teaching techniques that are inappropriate for young children. All the while, research continues to prove the best thing we can do for our kids is to relax.and let them play.

"Parents have high hopes for their children. They want the best for them," says Fairmont Private Schools' Director of Education Sandy Cosgrove, "but we have an obligation as educators to do what's right for our students. Sometimes, what research and experience proves is best for children doesn't always align with what parents believe. We have to help parents understand how young children learn best and that active learning and play is integral to any good early childhood program."

According to a recent clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, play is vital to supporting the cognitive, physical, social and emotional growth of children. There's a tome of evidence to support this finding. Remember the work of Jean Piaget from your Psychology 101 classes? In the 1970s, he investigated the way young children think and stressed the need to view their learning needs as different from those of older children. Decades before Piaget's research, Lev Vygotsky wrote ".from the point of view of development, play is not the predominant form of activity, but is, in a certain sense, the leading source of development in preschool years." From building forts and playing dress-up, to climbing trees and making mud pies, children learn and grow best during play.

What's even more impressive for the parents of tomorrow's leaders, is that through play children imagine the possibilities inherent in a diverse range of settings and situations and use their creativity to problem solve. If I add one more block to my tower, will it fall down? I'll try adding a few blocks at the bottom and see what happens. Who knows what jobs will be in demand when our children are ready to join the work force but being able to truly "think" and discover novel solutions for challenges will most certainly set them apart.

"Regurgitating memorized facts might come in handy on test day, but in the long run, it can be crippling to students. Children come to us at 2 and 3 as curious little scientists, eager to explore the world around them. The best preschools foster this innate ability by providing a safe and secure learning environment with dynamic, hands-on learning," says Cosgrove. Fairmont Private Schools created an Early Childhood Task Force in spring 2009 specifically focused on researching the learning needs of children from preschool to second grade. Teachers, administrators and school leaders came together to learn more about what Fairmont can do to help its youngest students thrive. The results of their investigation revealed that the secret to fostering bright, well-adjusted students primed for academic success wasn't about drilling kids on ABCs and 123s.

"We wanted to counter the affects of TV and video games and get kids outdoors, digging in the dirt, discovering nature. This year we're working with an experiential learning consultant to help us create outdoor learning classrooms that teach children science concepts in an active, hands-on way," says Cosgrove. Encouraging outdoor exploration is just one of the ways that Fairmont incorporates play into its early childhood curriculum.

What can you do to create a playful learning environment for your child? Look for childcare or preschool programs where the classrooms are bright and inviting with visuals and manipulatives to peak children's interest. Teachers and caregivers should foster a caring, supportive environment where children are encouraged to explore through play. At home, turn off the television and silence your cell phone; then, pull out the building blocks, finger paints or trunk of dress-up clothes. You'll be surprised at how much fun you'll have while you experience your child's imaginative little mind at work. Put away the flash cards, mom and dad, it's time to play!

About Fairmont Private Schools
Fairmont Private Schools has six campuses throughout Orange County from pre­school though 12th grade and is a recipient of the coveted Blue Ribbon of Excellence, the highest award designated to schools by the US Department of Education. 714.765.6300



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