The importance of letting children be children

Children are fascinating—the way they think, joke, create and even manipulate. The increased pressure for early childhood teachers to introduce academics earlier has become a great debate. Do we push what was once grade one material to kindergarten and what was once kindergarten material to pre-kindergarten? Most parents live in constant fear their child is not getting enough of what they need through the education system and always ask for more. Children have shown that they are capable of more, so why not give them more?

A child in early childhood education spends eight hours of their day trying to figure out how to get from 1 to 100, how many apples Sam has left after he ate 20 and what noise a giraffe makes. Not to mention they have to navigate their way through social situations they have never encountered before and make decisions about their behavior every second of the day. Life is hard when you are five. The push for academics earlier instead of play is making their lives even harder. Just let them play, play is learning.

If you think there is only one kind of play then think again. Let’s see, there is creative play, active play, cooperative play, solitary play, manipulative play, dramatic play and, every teacher’s favorite, quiet play. Most activities are a combination of different kinds of play. For instance, tag is both active play and cooperative play because they are moving around but also learning the rules of the game and how to play with each other. Play in schools is not just giving children a set of blocks and telling them to build. It is child-initiated, free-choice activities supported by an environment created by the materials to encourage creativity and freethinking.

Play helps children gain a sense of worth by allowing them to demonstrate their own abilities. It gives them an opportunity to explore real life situations, manipulating the various outcomes. It increases their logical reasoning skills, imagination, creativity, emotional understanding and maturity, language development, gross and fine motor skills and social and emotional development. Most importantly, it is fun and when something is fun then children become engrossed in what they are doing, which helps to build their concentration.

At an international level play allows a child to be able to learn from others cultures. The way one child may act during dramatic play may be entirely different then when a child from another country. For second language learners the social and verbal aspects are a huge component. Children want to be able to communicate with their friends. In a play environment they do not feel the pressure to have the correct answer and have the freedom to explore their interests while learning the language that is most important to them.

Acceleration of life through technology and the ease with which we can gather information has created this idea that we need to start academics earlier. Five-year-olds are taking standardized tests! I don’t know if you have had a conversation with a five-year-old lately, but if you have, you’d know that you cannot by any means standardize their thinking. They are at an age when anything is possible, there are no limits, their world views are so small and yet reach further than you would have ever imagined. They are creative, imaginative and energetic and full of the most amazing ideas. Why would you want to standardize that?

We need to let children be children. We are often too quick to try and fix a situation without fully understanding what is wrong in the first place. Play was and should still be an integral part of early childhood education. In today’s society we need a highly creative and innovative workforce. If we start children off by standardizing their learning or introducing concepts too early we run the risk of curbing the creativity needed later in life. We take away what childhood is about.

Even at its most basic level play allows the child to get out all that energy that adults are envious of and pray for. But hey, don’t take my word for it. Go play with your kids! Watch them think, explore, problem solve and, most importantly, have fun.

BIO: Ms. Emily Easterby is the TAS Early Childhood Department Head. She has been a dedicated early years teacher at The American School since 2013 with previous experience in Canada.