The Power of Play (April/May 2016)

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By Marcy Winer

 

Children in kindergarten need to learn the basic routines of school. They need to be respectful, socialize appropriately with their peers, follow directions given by their teachers, learn skills in math and English language arts, meet grade level requirements and receive formal state mandated assessments. They also need to play.

Years ago, a colleague coined the phrase “Kindergarten Boot Camp,” which referred to the ongoing testing and rigor children experience in kindergarten. The standardized tests that each state implement and the lack of freedom given to the teachers to teach result in less playtime for children and more academics. The pressure to perform is great for these students. Many of them become overwhelmed, shut down emotionally and need to take a break to regain focus.

Movement breaks (or “brain breaks,” as they are often rightfully called) are extremely beneficial to children. Popular web sites such as gonoodle.com, cosmickids.com and Zumba.com offer children yoga poses, silly dance movements and short bursts of activity that are appropriate for classroom use. They also allow the students and teachers to get a little physical, stretch and move their bodies and take a productive and restorative time-out. We use these websites in our class on a regular basis, especially during these long New England winters when recess is often restricted.  The children enjoy the interactive way they are moving and challenging their bodies for a few minutes. It is also a great way to pause the academics and energize everyone so they can all engage the next lesson of the day more effectively.

Kindergarten play - whether it is inside the classroom-based play center, in a physical education class, or outside at recess - gives children enormous benefits. Children who play together engage in dialogue, strengthening their linguistic skills. They also gain social, emotional. and problem-solving skills by working cooperatively with their peers. Play time also allows and encourages children to explore and enhance fine and gross motor skills.

Early learners need to explore!  Among the more popular spaces are science centers and puppet theaters. Children can experiment with appropriate materials and put on costumes and shows that encourage creatvity and offer opportunities to explore and engage texts in new ways.

 All of this play is useful in making connections with children who are absorbing these fun activities. What they are really doing is making real-world connections to stories, situations, and social engagements, all of which will prove beneficial as they grow.The imaginations that children use and develop in kindergarten are wonderful and they need play time to develop their senses of confidence and maturity as they communicate with others. 

Consider the sad and growing rate of obesity in our youth today. It is a scary thought that play at school may be their only outlet for physical activity at all. The increasing role of technology that is used on a daily basis by early learners is evident. Technology can be positive and educational when used appropriately in the classroom and at home, but not when it is abused and allowed to take the place of physical activity and real-world engagement. Parents need to keep young children moving and engage them in healthy activities to move their bodies and restrict technology.

A report from the Alliance for Childhood titled “Crisis in Kindergarten. Why Children need to Play in School”(Miller and Almon, 2009) emphasized the importance of movement and the value of play for children. Research was done in Germany on 50 play-based kindergartens versus 50 early-learning centers. The results showed that, by the age of ten, the children in the play-based kindergartens excelled in reading, math, social and emotional skills, and creativity. This is not surprising at all!

Children are naturally inquisitive and want to play. They learn that play is part of exploration and exploration is part of play.

The best way to keep kindergarten children playing is to make a time and a place for them to do that. Allow a small block of “free-play” into the schedule. Let them become interactive on their own while providing guidance and a choice of varied activities and watch them grow!

 

Marcy Winer has been a paraprofessional in Lowell for over 10 years. She also is the founder of the literacy program Project DEAR (Facebook.com/ProjectDear).