Early childhood education in some public schools is turning to a play-based curriculum for learning in kindergarten and first grade. This education method is not dissimilar to one of the learning methods of the effective Montessori Method that has been around for many years. This instructional method is an educational practice partially based on collaborative play in conjunction with hands-on learning and self-directed activities.
Play has been proven to be significant in the development of young children’s cognitive abilities. It helps to shape the structural design of the brain by building and strengthening pathways. During play, children often explore ideas, go down new avenues of thought, and even take risks as they create meaning. Furthermore, those children who participate in meaningful play experiences have been shown to develop stronger memory skills and language development. They also learn to regulate their behavior since children love to make “rules” as they create games and play with each other.
One educational authority who underscores the learning benefits of play is Temple University’s Professor Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, who holds a doctorate in human development from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Hirsh-Pasek asserts that the child who plays develops listening and speaking skills, skills necessary for nearly every subject in schools. She adds that, in innovative and creative acts of play, a child also develops critical thinking skills along with confidence as peers accept his or her ideas. This building of self-confidence is essential for children if they do experience failures in their lives because they will realize that not only have they had success in the past, but they have also overcome previous failures. In doing so, they can regain their confidence and learn more.
Teacher-directed, or purposeful play, has also proven to be successful in learning centers. This type of interaction with peers involves more direction from the teacher who selects the materials to be used. The teacher also observes activities more closely and provides students with feedback. Research has shown that this form of play-based learning is more effective than other teaching styles such as direct-instruction. One study discovered that a curriculum involving play has a positive influence on the acquisition of grammatical skills, as well as reading and math skills. Professor Hirsh-Pasek points out that engaging in activities with one another also lends young learners confidence, an attribute that significantly assists further learning.