It’s a young child’s nature to be physical! Playbased programs allow them to develop their natural inclinations to explore, investigate, and experiment through play that matches level of growth.
If we were to force academics into their early years, we would be merely training children to mimic specific facts, because young children do not yet have the ability to truly understand the information. If we put young children in solely academic classes without play, we are actually hurting them. If our society is going to continue to flourish, we need to raise imaginative, creative children who will be able to use their minds effectively when faced with difficult problems. These are the views of Dr. Michael K. Meyerhoff, executive director of The Epicenter, a family advisory and advocacy agency located in Lindenhurst, Illinois. He advocates the benefits of play-based programs, which he believes give children a foundation for learning.
It had long been thought that children who are put in preschools and daycare centers develop better social skills than those who are raised at home. However, according to Dr. Meyerhoff, research now shows that these situations often encourage negative behaviors in children. In these centers, a child is more likely to mimic the behavior of the other children, rather than look to the teacher as a role model. The teachers are often forced to use a reward-and-punishment system to maintain order. On the other hand, in a play-based program, there is more freedom and flexibility for the children, who are then able to see their peers as playmates (rather than as rivals), thus developing better cooperative skills.
Another point Dr. Meyerhoff emphasizes is that educational institutions generally use a child’s age as the only factor for promotion to each grade, rather than looking at the developmental stages of learning (and where the children are, in those stages). When schools promote children based just on age, children are often forced to learn academic skills before they are ready. Or, schools may disregard a child’s learning style. For example, if schools teach reading through only one approach (either phonics or whole language) and a child’s learning style requires a different approach, that child may have trouble progressing. It may be that a combination of two methods will benefit the child most. By using a method that does not fit the child’s learning style, difficulties may develop that could cause behavioral and learning problems. Educators may then label the child as ADD, ADHD, or dyslexic.
When a mother once asked Dr. Meyerhoff if her four-year-old child could be diagnosed with ADHD, he responded, “ADHD is the definition of a four year- old child!” Children often retain an inaccurate sense of their capabilities due to labeling at such a young age. Early childhood is the ideal time for a child to benefit fully from the power of play. Children who are exclusively involved in activities with a strong academic emphasis in their young lives will not have a firm educational foundation filled with creativity, high self-esteem, and the love of learning. When parents and their children regularly participate in activities rich in flexibility, freedom, and fun (such as music and movement), the child will reap many benefits and will have a better chance for happiness and success in life.
We all must be more vocal in our communities and become stronger advocates for play-based learning.