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We want the best for our children – the kind of educational foundation at preschool that will serve them best at each stage of life. With so many different approaches and techniques, it is not the easiest choice to make. We realize the importance of learning through play, but don’t want to hold our children back by not exposing them to technology. Often, schools may neglect one in favor of the other. With the growing relevance of technology, play may seem less and less important. However, studies suggest that this may not be the best way to encourage development and learning in the formative years.
Jeffry Goldstein, a researcher for Media and Cultural Studies at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, put forward the notion that play is necessary if humans want to reach their full potential in his research paper on Play in Children’s Development, Health, and Well-being in 2012. At Stone Brook Academy, we see the importance of each by using smartboard technology while also taking special care to ensure that the benefits of play are not left behind. This approach aligns itself with the Minnesota Department of Education who shares several links on their site on how to include play in preschools to see maximum development during the preschool stage of education.
Benefits of Play and Technology at Preschool
Technology exposure ensures that our children are keeping up with the times and that they will be able to compete and engage fairly in an ever-changing world. It also ensures ongoing and progressive learning in that a learner will become comfortable with the idea that there is always more to know about a subject, given that technology is always being updated. These are important lessons to instil, and healthy mind-sets to encourage. With the innumerable benefits, it is a given that you should select a preschool that incorporates technology. There are many ways to use technology in teaching and it should be a mode of learning, much like play. Just as we should encourage learning by use of technology, we cannot move away from learning through play. Explorative learning has a set of benefits that cannot be learnt through exposure to technology that is massively influential in success later on, whatever path a child takes.
Children who participate in play and exploration are in general much healthier. Building a child’s physical strength has an impact on their immune systems, their recovery time, and desire to be active. These benefits will have an impact on how well a child copes and progresses. Play encourages movement, and a mobile body is a healthy body.
Every time a child plays, patterns emerge and logic forms. This kind of learning has an impact on language development as well as mathematical development. Play is interactive and naturally three dimensional, and so children are immersed in an activity that appeals to more than one sense and stimulates awareness. This leads to the ability to problem solve and see more than one perspective.
Play exposes children to different objects and environments, and can assist children to see symmetry amongst different things, to appreciate the symbolic nature of things. Creativity thrives off this understanding. Creativity is basically the ability to see how elements can be shifted to new contexts and employed differently.
Play may start off as an aided activity, and progress to isolated play (playing alone) but even in this isolated play, the child is already learning to interact with the idea of a separate entity through imagination. When playing moves on to become a social activity, a child already has the tools to be comfortable with others. It also ensures that they will function well as a member of a team or community because play requires that each active player understands and abides by a set of expectations in order for the game to work.
We mentioned earlier that play assists with cognitive development and an ability to see more than one perspective. This is the basis of empathy. In a world where bullying is a real concern, we need to employ as many tactics to teach empathy to our children. Play not only encourages children to make room for each other and get along socially, but also enables the growth of an empathic approach. By being exposed to spatial games and exploration, children learn to question cause and effect – because they start to witness it.
Happiness and Well-Being
Many people come away from a long school career feeling strongly that their true purpose and core selves were so burdened by what they had to learn that it became slightly more difficult to choose a career, or make other big decisions.
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation” Plato (philosopher).
If given the opportunity to explore with some guidance, and make use of objects around them to their best enjoyment, we see what makes a child happy. We see what makes them bored. We see what makes them focus for longer, and we can use this to build a happy human. Play theorist, Brian Sutton-Smith, suggests that the opposite of play is not work, but depression – an important consideration when tasked with the well-being of our children – and a theory similar to the belief held by psychologist, Joan Almon, who focuses on development of children at preschool and kindergarten ages.
Learning with Ease
A lack of play has most recently been implicated as a factor for ADHD and hyperactivity. This is a suggested theory by Neuroscientist, Jaak Panksepp. This needs further study but positive results are becoming evident. Through play, children are stimulated enough, in a variety of ways, and in a personally fulfilling way. All this leads to a child that has become aware of how best to engage her or himself.
Putting children into the natural world to play will also lead to a curiosity, and then a deeper understanding and appreciation, of the natural world (or any kind of environment). This is a topic that should be promoted in early childhood learning.
How to Incorporate Play into Preschool Learning Time
Play doesn’t need to take the place of learning time, and it should not be viewed as time away from keeping up with necessary skills, such as technology. Learning happens simultaneous to play if incorporated properly.
Creating a Play Space that Promotes Learning
Play can happen in almost any kind of space. Providing a variety of space, or at least an array of materials that can be used in whatever space is available, creates an awareness of surroundings and leads to questions about how those materials fit into the surroundings. The space for children to play should allow for exploration, questioning, and discovery.
Teacher Guided and Learner Initiated Play
A child will be intrigued on their own. They will seek out items and aspects that interest them and ask questions. They will study and absorb elements of the space in which they are playing and come to conclusions about a variety of things.
With the guidance of a teacher, play can be directed to incorporate specific learning. The natural world, problem solving, creative design, and language skills are a few areas of learning that can be targeted and where learning can be prompted through play.
Finding the Balance with Technology and Play
We have spoken extensively about the benefits of play. We truly believe in the balance of these modes of learning and feel strongly about giving justice to both. Technology and play have at least equal weight in the discussion of preschool learning, and they can become a symbiotic system.
Technology can assist with interactive play. Puzzle apps and other game apps can be downloaded onto our smartboard, and these games can be used to engage children in cognitive learning and even in social play, depending on the app. Smartboard technology can also be used to allow children to trace an image that the teacher has drawn. This technology offers elements that would otherwise not be present.
Technology that is designed to assist in learning can be used as an introduction or a prompt for some games, and can even be a mode in which formative information can be noted and stored when informal learning happens through play. A play session can be initiated by use of technology, and it can be used to sum up or to structure the learning that happens outside. We feel that an amalgamation of these two modes of learning will be exciting for preschoolers.
In a world that seems quick to place its focus on technology in education, it is important to keep informed on what research suggests about play as well. And the research is clear – the inclusion of play at preschool is vital for a well-rounded child to become successful and highly functional members of society. Play has an impact on how further learning takes place, and on how a child forms a view of the world. An article in the American Psychological Association Monitor on Psychology motions the theory that children play at the skills they will need as adults. At Stone Brook Academy we take care to ensure that these skills are learned.