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Should Early Childhood Education be Academic, or Play-based?

Kids perceive through all their senses all that happens around them. Every sensory experience is an instance of some active learning for them. This is how they gain knowledge of the world. Hence, it is important for early childhood education teachers to include play-based educational activities in their curriculums.

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Learning is better through play

Research findings have proved the following:

  1. The preferred method of learning for a young child is through movement.
  2. Play promotes creativity, better problem-solving ability and improved levels of reading, and higher scores in IQ.
  3. Optimal learning takes place with the integration of all body systems.
  4. Lessons experienced physically have an immediate impact, and happen to be longer lasting.
  5. Retention of quality information depends upon the number of senses utilized during the learning process.
There is definitely a very strong connection between performance of physical activity and mental associations.

With all the mounting evidence, it is pretty clear that play-based learning is far more superior in comparison to that through plain academics. Unfortunately, in spite of the findings of such research studies, most educators continue to focus on the need to ‘educate’ the child. Thus, preschoolers fill more sheets and perform more seatwork. These were originally designated for first-graders or kindergartners.

Why learning through seatwork only?

A big part of this tradition comes from the society's belief that brain functions are more important than body functions. Moreover, many of us have lived with the misguided belief that body and mind are two separate entities. Hence, schools continue to train human minds through ears and eyes only.

The need to go back to basics

Early childhood education teachers created in the past programs to meet the developmental requirements of children. They believed that active play promoted active learning; some of the play-based activities included:

  1. Stacking and sorting blocks and other such manipulatives
  2. Dancing and singing, or acting a story out
  3. Exploring outdoor areas, and growing plants
  4. Trying different roles and speaking to one another during social studies classes.
However, many parents and educators are in a hurry to feed children with as much information as they can. This tends to affect the overall experience of children.

The truth is, children from kindergarten to third-grade should be more active in learning because they're still too young to be forced to sit for hours. Conversely, early childhood education happens to be less appropriate to all-round development.

Recent research studies on the brain have confirmed what early childhood education teachers have upheld for long: the body and mind are strongest when integrated rather than separated. Physical activity helps in activating the cells of the brain much more than seatwork.

Sitting can increase fatigue and decrease concentration. Movement helps in feeding oxygen, glucose and water to the brain, enhancing its performance. Moreover, learning through activity creates neural networks within the brain and all through the body, making the whole body an instrument for learning.