Purposeful Play

The national buzz in education now focuses on school before kindergarten. My question is, “Who gets to frame this conversation?” The effect of politics in our schools seems to be pushing hard on young children to master a standardized curriculum at early ages. However, research in child development suggests that this approach is not developmentally appropriate.

You don’t have to spend much time with babies to notice that each one is determined to grow into this world in its own way. During the first five years, each child carves out a continuously larger place in the world by experimenting physically and mentally on a personal timetable and with a very individual style. Schooling, by design, has a homogenizing effect on all of us. Why the hurry to regimentation and closing off of exploration? Parents, as their children’s first teachers, are the best candidates for making sure early learning experiences are good ones.

How is play related to learning? Maria Montessori, pioneering innovator of early childhood methodology explained succinctly, “Play is the work of childhood.” Children at play develop cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional skills. They build on their knowledge, make discoveries, experiment with literacy and math and learn to self-regulate and interact with others in socially appropriate ways.

Play is interesting and it is fun. Fred Rogers said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning.”

So where does this leave parents as they struggle to balance their child’s developmental needs with future academic demands? Current reality is that the academic expectations for children entering kindergarten have increased greatly in the last ten years. Children who start out in kindergarten behind their classmates are at risk for poor educational outcomes.

Parents who have had their own issues with school or had early learning difficulties may give up in despair and believe there is nothing they can do to influence a positive outcome for their children. But, that is not the case. Play is the answer. The act of children and their caregivers playing together is a delight and good practice. Parents need only to be introduced to information about their children’s cognitive, linguistic and emotional development and how to provide purposeful play opportunities that are appropriate for their child’s development.

DAC is among sixteen high poverty communities receiving funds from a U.S. Department of Education Innovative Approaches to Literacy two-year grant. The Children’s Reading Foundation is using the grant to provide parent classes and summer reading programs to support literacy and early learning. Ready for Kindergarten classes are forming now in Chaparral, Sunland Park and Anthony. Free three-part parent training programs begin in January. To assure yourself a spot, contact Ida Garcia ida8821@yahoo.com or phone: 505-459-0594 to register.

In Las Cruces, great conversations are occurring among educational professionals and early childhood providers who want to offer more support to parents of small children. New programs are incubating and I will report more on this subject soon.

If you have read this far, you probably are quite serious about reading and success for all of our children to become literate, life-long learners. Thanks to your support during these past three years, we are growing and assuming a more and more confident place among advocates for positive change in our community. We are having a party for friends old and new with a sneak preview of impending changes coming up. Please celebrate with us Saturday, Nov. 15 at 2 pm at 5350 Hunters Chase Road. For those of you who can’t make it Saturday, I will be making an announcement right here next month in the Reading Solution.