Supervisor of Jurisdictional Programs – In September, Calgary hosted the International Play Association’s tri-annual conference titled Unleashing the Power of Play. Delegates from over 50 countries came together to celebrate, advocate, educate and learn about the latest research in relation to play and child development. This event couldn’t have come at a better time. Early childhood educators within Rocky View Schools are beginning a dialogue regarding play: the role of play in early learning, the delivery of the curriculum through play, and the balance between play-based programming and school-based academic requirements.
Kindergarten teachers report that the pressure to teach academic skills earlier and earlier has been gradually gaining momentum. The popular notion that the earlier a child can read and write, the more successful they will be throughout their academic career seems well established in society. These increasing academic expectations have led some educators to up the academic rigor in the classroom, which unfortunately, often comes at the expense of opportunities for play.
While increasing academic expectations in kindergarten might appear to afford children an academic advantage, we now know that it does not. Children who have the opportunity to acquire foundational literacy, numeracy, and social skills through rich and authentic play experiences actually have the advantage. They will be better equipped to process and regulate their emotions, reason with information and solve problems; empathize and take the perspective of others. They will develop stronger communication skills, a more diverse vocabulary and will be better prepared for future formal academic instruction.
There is no question that educators ought to have high expectations for their kindergarten children. Play-based programming does not mean that children play all day without teacher support and direction or that there is an absence of goals or expectations. Programming through play is a way of engaging with the curriculum that honors children’s interests and developmental level. If we place more importance on the acquisition of academic skills at the expense of these opportunities, we are doing a disservice to our children. They will miss the opportunity to develop fundamental skills essential for their academic, social and emotional growth.