Learning and playing are inseparable in early childhood

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By Marilyn Smith
It has been wonderful to hear from so many people who read the article by John Elder in the Sunday Age this week, entitled “Little people thinking big”, and to have people recognise the outstanding program Preshil offers our youngest children. Rebecca Lewis and Oriana Ramunno have devoted themselves to very rigorous research with Monash University and planning to implement an approach, which looks like a playful game, and is a lot of fun for our children, but is carefully designed to achieve high level teaching of concepts and complex ideas.
 
The title of this piece reminds me immediately of the excerpt from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is quoted in the first pages of the Preshil Courage document. Children are not the people of tomorrow, but people today. They are entitled to be taken seriously. They have a right to be treated by adults with tenderness and treated as equals.
 
The ‘playworlds’ created together by the teachers and the children are underpinned by enormous respect and serious regard for the children’s capacities, together with a deep understanding of the role of play in their learning.
 
Learning and playing are inseparable in early childhood.  Too often in schools, possibly in the interests of showing ‘academic rigour’, learning becomes the polar opposite of play, and children quickly pick up on the queues that flag learning as ‘work’ and ‘serious’ and play is fun, but just for entertainment; they are allowed to play when they have finished their work. This approach lends itself to a lockstep approach to learning by rote, but is counter-productive in cultivating thinkers and questioners. What is prized in young children as preparation for academic rigour actually confines learning to a concrete linear model, rather than encouraging lateral, holistic thinking, problem solving or a growth mindset.
 
Preshil has always supported the view of Froebel, the great pioneer of progressive education, that “Play is children’s work”. Play naturally invokes imagination, abstract thinking and with the support of others, conceptual development. It is the thread that leads to both critical thinking and to creativity, and it demands collaborative interaction.
 
In these ‘Playworlds’ children access the ideas at different levels and through different paths.  Children can participate in their own way – learning through observation and listening to their peers as well as more active participation and taking the lead.  Children’s creative theories are respected and built upon by teachers.
 
This conceptual learning is reinforced in the early learning program by concrete examples in the kindergarten environment, such as in the most recent ecosystem project, planting and growing of plants, cultivating a worm farm and composting, caring for ducks and chickens – all serve to illustrate aspects of ecosystems in a real context.
 
Arlington has a School Tour on June 9 for parents interested in enrolling children into Prep for 2017 and 2018 where Rebecca and Oriana will talk about the Early Years program and I am sure they would both be very happy to talk to any other Preshil parents about this project.

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