There is a lot of data that shows how important early education is to a child’s future. Some research shows that students who fall behind in kindergarten are more likely to struggle academically down the line. This information can put a lot of added pressure on children and their parents and can lead to a stressful educational experience. It’s also not the full picture. While there is no denying how valuable an excellent kindergarten education will be in the future, there are some other factors that are just as important.
It may surprise you to hear this, but play is a critical element of a good kindergarten program. The time that children spend playing is not just a break from learning, but it is an essential element of learning. There are some skills like collaboration, leadership, and problem solving that are only learned through experience, and playtime is the perfect opportunity for that learning to occur.
This isn’t to say that all kindergarten children should be set free to run wild during their school day. The play that we’re talking about is often guided and intentional. Think about the opportunities for learning that take place when a group of children gathers together to build a castle out of blocks or finish a puzzle. Teachers use games like these to enhance the more academic learning that is happening in the classroom.
Research shows that American kindergarten classrooms are more academic than ever before. The pressures to “leave no child behind” and prepare kindergarten children to pass the rigorous tests that come further down the line in their education are leading some schools astray. We want to do what’s right for our children, and while it may seem counterintuitive, sometimes that looks like less work and more play.
In addition to promoting learning, play also reduces stress. Our children can feel the pressure of a high-stakes learning environment and need opportunities just like we do to take a breather. If you’d like to lean more into intentional play in your household, consider the following.
Many of us spend much of our lives indoors. In a single day, we may go from sitting at desks to sitting at the dinner table to lounging on the couch without ever feeling the sunshine on our faces. But it wasn’t always like that, kindergarten children are wired to play and explore the outside. In addition to the physical benefits of being in nature, there is so much to explore right in your backyard. Encourage your children to spend time outside, and for your own sake, you might join them.
Let Their Imaginations Lead
As the parent of a kindergarten child, you know what it’s like to follow your child down the rabbit hole of their imaginations. Imaginative play is more beneficial than you may realize. It provides children the opportunity to freely express their feelings, thoughts, and ideas. Allow your kindergarten student to lean into his or her imaginative play. You may even consider providing them with some tools to do so. Collecting a box of props like old clothing and other random objects from your home gives kids the starting point.
Give Them Space
Remember the days when you would play and play all day long on a Saturday without being directly supervised by your parents? This is called free play, and these days as our children are more over-scheduled than ever before, free play is critical to their development and their sanity. We’re not suggesting you have to let your children run wild without accountability. You should set whatever boundaries you need to make your children safe and within those boundaries, you can provide them with plenty of time to play freely, unscheduled, and without technology on their own. The power of free play isn’t harnessed in front of a device.
Let Children Negotiate
Any time you have more than one child in your house you’re likely to end up with some kind of conflict. Who gets to go first? Who gets to be the leader? Who gets to play with the prized toy? This can be frustrating to listen to, but there is so much learning opportunity packed into moments like these. Kindergarten age is a great time for children to hone their ability to negotiate through conflict. Encourage your children to work out their conflicts as much as possible. When issues are constantly being brought to you to arbitrate, they are never really learning how to work through their interpersonal conflicts on their own.
Kindergarten is an exciting developmental stage. You know better than anyone how quickly your child picks up new skills at this age. But often the increased focus on academic growth edges out the need for play. We know you want to give your kindergarten child a leg up in the world, and we assure you that leaning into play is a great way to do that. For more information about how we incorporate play into our kindergarten classrooms, or to learn more about joining the St. Barnabas School community, contact us today.