“Don’t you just play with the kids” is a comment often heard from parents when an early childhood teacher talks about what they do. Parents adore seeing their children play and have fun but attitudes around its educational value are still evolving. Experts have found that learning through play is vital to a child’s learning and development.
When a child is at their centre, and they use their imagination to create their own adventure, they absorb information through their senses. Developing a curiosity in children helps them try new things, take risks, and increases their confidence. This is where a good teacher can really help your child grow. Early childhood education teachers are knowledgeable sources of information on child development and education. They put a lot of passion and time into planning and executing magical learning experiences that give children an opportunity to problem solve, express themselves, work as a team, ask questions and enhance their language skills.
For children under 2 years old, engaging with a responsive and caring person is essential. It makes littles ones feel loved and happy, it nurtures a curiosity about the world around them and shows them how they fit in. It helps them learn about emotions, something that can still be challenging when you’re an adult. Learning to share and control emotion at young age gives an incredible head-start in life.
As children get older, the way they play changes and it’s still important. What exactly does pretending to be a dinosaur or a pirate have to do with education? More than you’d think! Role playing gives children a chance to practice what they’re learning, develop social skills and understand new concepts. A good teacher knows that a child needs to see it ‘in real life’ first. A 3-year-old isn’t going to understand what a firefighter does unless he or she meets one. Then, they can put out an imaginary fire with their teachers and friends. Children are not going to remember to pick up the phone and ring 111 unless they have playfully practiced it a few times. The same goes for literacy and numeracy skills – play prepares children for a lifetime of learning.
If your child is ready to pick up a pencil and write their name at 4, then that’s great. But they might not be, and that’s also great because children learn at different speeds. If your child is an amazing storyteller, that’s just as important as being able to write your name. Why? Oral language is literacy.
Parents can be anxious before the first day of school and ask themselves whether their child is ready. Primary schools will meet and accept your child as they are. Primary school teachers value the skills and qualities children learn from a play-based curriculum. We want our tamariki to leave our centres loving to learn, confidence, ask questions, follow instructions, concentrate, make friends, regulate their emotions, compromise and problem-solve. These are all key skills needed for an open heart, mind and productive life.
At BestStart, we’re on a mission to help New Zealand families understand what learning looks like for children of all ages in our centres.
Come learn with us – visit www.best-start.org to find a centre near you.