Many parents in the US are concerned with their children’s academic performance and look for a daycare environment that has “teaching” included in the curriculum. Children under age 5 learn best through “play” because they haven’t developed the literacy skills to learn through long lectures, reading, or through searching information online (haha). Children 0-5 are preliteracy age (meaning “not able to read”) and they learn best through hands-on activities.
In the toddler through pre-k years, children want to explore their environment and everything in it. From touching things, pushing them, carrying them around, throwing them, turning them around and upside-down, children this age LOVE to be moving. They crawl under things, over things, and try to make the most of their environment by getting into everything and seeing what everything is. All items in their world are brand-new to them and this novelty fuels their endless curiosity to find out what things are and how they work. They are true-blue kinesthetic learners.
If the environment a child explores in is accessible to them and has toys, supplies, and materials that are child-safe, they learn that the world is a safe place and they feel comfortable in new settings. They learn that the world is ok and come to love it. Children learn the most when they are calm and content and having an open environment for them to explore. More learning happens in calm and safe surroundings.
Through movement (crawling, walking, running, climbing, etc) children strengthen their muscles and expel energy. They also learn what they are capable of doing and learn what they are not capable of doing (through possibly minor injuries). Outdoor play is especially beneficial to children because there are so many things to do and see and numerous learning experiences. Nature, to children, is magical. It provides a multitude of opportunities to see animals, poke in the dirt, play in the sand, run and lay down, to get dirty, to be totally engrossed in their play. They can also play mini sports or throw a ball into a child-size hoop, learning coordination skills.
Through drawing, coloring, painting, and other art projects, children learn fine motor skills that will help them in learning to hold silverware and eventually hold pens and pencils and aid in their penmanship skills. Art opens up the mind of children and allows them to express feelings, frustrations, and whatever their subconscious mind is thinking about. Through free art expression (versus having them complete a particular art project) children learn that what they create and think up is more important than a finished product; that the process itself is what’s important and learning techniques for placing objects, cutting paper using child-safe scissors, and rolling and patting clay help build the skills children need for future success in the sciences, math, and the arts.
Through movement, balance, and music, children learn about rhythm, sound, pitch, and pre-reading skills. Rhythm is necessary for children to be able to read because of the “stress” each syllable gets in certain words that makes it poetic and also how we can tell if someone is foreign (because they emphasize the wrong syllable). Children who have music and rhythm and balance are likely able to begin learning to read (if they can balance on 1 foot for 10 seconds). If children learn to read too early, they learn it in a certain area of the brain that will be erased once they are ACTUALLY ready and the information will be stored in a different part of the brain. This means that the child will have to RELEARN how to read if they are taught too early.
While it may look like playing to us adults, trust me when I say that it’s “work” for children. They “work” all day long just like we do, it’s just that they don’t have bills to pay and a boss to work for.