Mandate for playful learning in preschool: Presenting the evidence offers a comprehensive review of research supporting playful learning along with succinct policy and practice recommendations that derive from this research. Below authors Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., Temple University, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Ph.D., University of Delaware, Laura Berk, Ph.D., Illinois State University, and Dorothy Singer, Ph.D., Yale University look at how Obama should address pre-school reform in his administration.
If we’re going to spend $10 billion on early education, as Obama has suggested, what kind of preschools do we want to pay for? The kind that teach our children in ways that allow them to learn quickly and easily, not just while they are in school, but throughout their lives. How do we know which ones do that? Scientists have been studying this question for forty years now, and for once, nearly all of them agree on what we need in our school programs: More play. Not just frolicking in the yard, however: the research is also clear as to what is the right kind of play.
Play, at its best, helps children think better, stay focused, work with others (and avoid unnecessary fights), and even become more fluent readers and writers. Both free play and teacher-guided play can make learning fun and engaging. The trick is to balance making learning exciting with a deliberate effort to satisfy children’s emotional needs: disturbed and distracted children don’t learn well. Research since the 1960s has identified 7 principles about how children learn:
1. Children develop at different rates, and we need to take their starting points into consideration.
2. Children learn by doing.
3. Children learn better by interacting with others.
4. Children learn faster if their emotional needs are met.
5. Children are more engaged by what connects to their everyday lives.
6. Learning how to learn is as important as memorizing facts.
7. Children learn better when we take their different aptitudes, skills, needs, and backgrounds into account.
With the workforce of 2040 entering preschool, and President-elect Obama appointing a strong advocate for early education–Arne Duncan–to be the Secretary of Education, now is the time to focus on how children learn best. Research tells us what works. Well-designed preschool programs involving play can help children be smarter, and develop learning skills and social skills that they will retain for their whole lives. Our tax dollars should give our children more of what they need to survive and thrive in this increasingly competitive, rapidly changing world.