PLAY IS ESSENTIAL FOR LIVING AND LEARNING
The big debate in early childhood education today is the ‘push down’ of academics, robbing children of play. Many professionals are concerned about what this means for young children, and for the future of society as children grow up without the vital learning self-initiated play provides them.
In Hong Kong, there can be a tendency to over-fill young children’s schedules with formal, planned lessons to provide children with more learning. However, professionals, such as Peter Gray, suggest we must do the opposite. Supporting and encouraging children’s inborn drive to play and explore gives them the most valuable skills in living and learning. In Give Childhood Back to Children, Gray states, “If we want our offspring to have happy, productive and moral lives, we must allow more time for play, not less.”
Play is defined as voluntary, self-motivated, and engaging. All forms of learning, including physical, social, emotional and cognitive development, are rooted in play. The fundamentals of learning are formed, as children are able to follow their curiosities with natural problems and new ideas unfolding in front of them. Through play children learn crucial lessons, such as the cycle of practice, fail, try again; building in them persistence and resilience. Play provides children with opportunities to build their confidence and creativity as they become risk takers and problem solvers. In this ever-changing world, these skills cannot be learned by memorized answer, but are truly fostered through allowing children to test and try new experiences and ideas. They are consistently strengthening their cognitive thinking as they actively take part in their learning. These are valued skills and even today’s workplaces are not seeing enough self-initiation, critical analyzing or creativity.
Social and emotional skills are also embedded in play. Social skills, with their cues and rules, are explored and experimented with as they engage with peers and explore cooperation. They investigate their relationships and emotions, giving them time and exposure to develop understanding of social behaviours and norms, as well as insight into their own emotional responses. In imaginary play, they are free to experiment with familiar and unfamiliar characters’ roles. They gain empathy as they explore others’ perspectives. They grow a strong sense of self and belonging as they role play, experimenting with all the knowledge they are gaining socially in their daily lives. They are able to experiment with the unknown, learning to control and understand their impulses and fears.
At Yew Chung International School (YCIS) Early Childhood Education (ECE) Section, through play, character development is also supported, validated and encouraged. Individual children are valued for their strengths and differences. Too often as adults we forget about the importance of the formation of personality within a child and how it needs to be gently nurtured. When adults provide time for play, they show children that they respect and trust in their natural and authentic desire to learn and question their world. Within play, children have the opportunity to develop positive and secure dispositions, allowing stable character formation and unique personality traits. They gain strong self-identity, which carries on with them throughout life. Children may be “small” but by no means should they ever be made to feel insignificant.
In YCIS early childhood education programmes, all these skills are highly valued through their play-based curriculum. The curriculum is led by the children’s interests, explorations and discoveries. Throughout the classroom, children are researchers engaged in different types of experience, from individual children investigations to small group explorations. Teachers are actively engaged with children, as well as closely observing the various learning on-going of all students. Teachers then creatively extend that learning with further investigations, relevant conversations, and thoughtful settings to deepen children’s play. Teachers respect children’s view, feelings and knowledge. The uninterrupted play is relished by the learners, as they enthusiastically throw themselves into every moment of the school day.