As some of you may know, my son Aiden has a very active temperament.
From playgrounds to play dates to birthday parties to Gymboree to swimming class, the kid keeps me pretty busy. That's why it was important for me to chose a daycare/preschool that incorporated play into their learning activities.
Although I totally think that preschools should teach our children basic skills and strongly prepare them for elementary school, I DO think that it is unnecessary to teach three-year-olds the order of operations aka PEMDAS or that (7x6)+12=54 and 20,000 site words... especially when they are not learning how to read via learning phonics and the sounds that letters make. Trust me on this. As a former 3rd grade teacher, I've seen kids who "knew" how to read site words, but didn't know how to read words they've never encountered before because they never learned phonics. And therefore, they could not read complete sentences. In the third grade. But that's a total tangent. Back to the point.
Play is to children what work is to adults. Through play, children learn some serious skills. From gross motor development to fine motor development to even greater cognitive and problem solving skills to their social and emotional development to language development to helping move them towards self-sufficiency, playing helps our kids grow mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Because I live in NYC and we don't have acres and acres of open grass and fields for the kids to play, in addition to the above mentioned activities, I have to rely on Aiden's school to encourage play. And not just aimless playing (although the free exploration definitely helps kids discover lots of things about the way the world works), but playing with a purpose... to learn something.
I remember having a conversation with a friend about preschool choices for our children and she mentioned that her top choice for her daughter was a school that's super strict and taught the kids to multiply through endless drills... by the age of three. Three! Because she did her research and seemed to know what she wanted, I'm sure that'll work for her, but it's not my cup of tea. To me, when done correctly, pretend play and socio-dramtic play teaches math and life skills just fine.
And besides, Aiden has Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade to learn that stuff. I never went to Kindergarten so I learned basic multiplication in the 1st grade... and no where on my college application did it ask, "At what age did you learn the answer to 8x6?" And I went to Columbia University... on a full academic scholarship. And, since I also got in again for grad school, I can assure you that it was no where on the grad school application either. Don't get me wrong, of course I want Aiden to learn basic reading, writing, and math readiness (and he has!), but not at the expense of learning through play...
The younger toddlers will usually engage in parallel play, which is where they play near each other, but not necessarily with each other. It may look weird to us grown ups, but they kiddies are truly learning as they engage in this type of play. Also, don't expect 'em to share too much during this type of play.
For the older tots/preschoolers, with some encouragement, they can engage in associative play. This type of play is where they still do their own thing with their own toys, but they interact with each other often and may even share their toys... if they feel like it. LOL.
As they get older, in the preschool/pre-kindergarten years, they progress towards cooperative play, which is where they play with each other by coming up with a plan and executing it. Ever played a game of tag or seen a group of kids having a fabulous tea party? That's cooperative play!
Think about how much of a workout you got from a good game of freeze tag. Or how much you learned from playing dress-up. Think about how much your little one can discover when play is incorporated into many aspects of their learning. Now get out there and let your little ones play, play, PLAY!
**Thanks to my awesome coursework and professors in the Counseling and Clinical Department at Columbia University for equipping me with all this fabulous information that I can pass along to you guys.