Is Your Preschooler Playing Enough at School?
by Rae Pica
There are so many choices in preschools today, it's no wonder that parents are overwhelmed when making decisions about where to send their children.
In brief, the preschool you choose should be one that respects children’s intellectual, social/emotional, and physical needs. This describes a traditional, play-based preschool, as opposed to the academic-oriented education being touted – and sought after – in today’s superkid climate. So, when you visit preschools and interview teachers and directors, the word play should loom large at the top of your checklist.
How do you know what kind of play to look for? Among other things, a preschool in which play is a priority will include housekeeping, dress-up, and other dramatic-play centers that allow children to learn about themselves and the world around them. The school will include materials, like blocks and Legos – enough to go around – for constructive play (activities in which children build or construct things). And it will be one in which the teachers play with the children! Sadly, many children come to preschool these days without having been encouraged to play, so early childhood teachers must be willing and able to show them how. They do this both by modeling and by asking questions that expand upon the children’s ideas and encourage new ones. Although they follow the children’s lead, they act as facilitators of their play and learning.
Of course, if the idea of a play-based preschool brings to mind a total lack of organization – children running wild, bouncing off the walls, and allowed to do anything and everything they please – you’ll need to create a new mental picture. Play does not equal chaos or lack of structure; nor does an environment that is more child-centered than adult-directed. Rather, a preschool in which the children often initiate their own activities and make their own decisions will typically be more industrious than one in which children are forced to sit unnaturally still.