Play

Thirty two (32) years ago, I was a crickety and boisterous little boy at National Federation of Women’s Federation of the Philippines (NFWC) kindergarten program.

A month after the People Power Revolution in 1986, I graduated with a not-so flying colors. I was a very active lad.

The teachers asked us to sleep during class but my eyes were wide open like an owl.

As a punishment, I did not take part in the story telling session, together with other misfits we were whisked to the play area.

Alas! Play pa more!

My memory of kindergarten was fun!

Play

I was so playful in kindergarten that my teacher misspelled my name in my graduation certificate.

Unlike now, kindergarten has changed significantly in the last two decades: children now spend more time being taught and tested on literacy and math skills than they do learning through play and exploration, exercising their bodies, and using their imaginations.

Young children work hard at play. They invent scenes and stories, solve problems, and negotiate their way through social roadblocks. They know what they want to do and work diligently to do it. Because their motivation comes from within, they learn the powerful lesson of pursuing their own ideas to a successful conclusion.

Research shows that children who engage in complex forms of socio-dramatic play have greater language skills than nonplayers, better social skills, more empathy, more imagination, and more of the subtle capacity to know what others mean. They are less aggressive and show more self-control and higher levels of thinking.

Long-term research casts doubt on the assumption that starting earlier on the teaching of phonics and other discrete skills leads to better results. For example, most of the play-based kindergartens in Germany were changed into centers for cognitive achievement during a wave of educational “reform” in the 1970s. But research comparing 50 play-based classes with 50 early-learning centers found that by age ten the children who had played excelled over the others in a host of ways. They were more advanced in reading and mathematics and they were better adjusted socially and emotionally in school. As a result of this study German kindergartens returned to being play-based again.

China and Japan are envied in the U.S.for their success in teaching science, math, and technology. But one rarely hears about their approach to schooling before second grade, which is playful and experiential rather than didactic.

Finland’s children, too, go to playful kindergartens, and they enter first grade at age seven rather than six. They enjoy a lengthy, playful early childhood. Yet Finland consistently gets the highest scores on the respected international PISA exam for 15-year-olds.

Play is the foremost way that children use the language they are hearing.

I still remember the daughters of Mrs. Tawag, our teachers who introduced us to children’s play themes and builds on them, introducing new content and play materials to stimulate our minds.

Most children today don’t have enough playtime even at home. They are more busy with their gadgets.

Many affluent children now need help entering into creative play because of the surfeit of media and organized activities in their lives. They struggle to bring their own ideas to the fore.

As one kindergarten teacher put it, “If I give the children time to play, they don’t know what to do. They have no ideas of their own.”

This is a tragedy, both for the children themselves and for our nation and world. No human being can achieve his full potential if his creativity is stunted in childhood. And no nation can thrive in the 21st century without a highly creative and innovative workforce. Nor will democracy survive without citizens who can form their own independent thoughts and act on them.

The power of play as the engine of learning in early childhood and as a vital force for young children’s physical, social, and emotional development is beyond question. Children in play-based kindergartens have a double advantage over those who are denied play: they end up equally good or better at reading and other intellectual skills, and they are more likely to become well-adjusted healthy people.

Every child deserves a chance to grow and learn in a play-based, experiential preschool and kindergarten.

Play works, it did for me!

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