A disturbing trend in preschool programs has emerged in the past decade that has stifled play based learning. The academic programs that are trending are incredibly structured with preschool students doing more activity based exercises rather than playing and learning through exploration. Part of the reason this trend has occurred is due to the increase in technology and “screen time” within classrooms. This large implementation of technology causes teachers to have very sedentary classrooms, since the children have to watch a screen. Another reason a trend of passive, sedentary learning has taken hold of preschool programs is because of the idea that playing does not cause children to learn; however, this could not be further from the truth. Both free play and guided play provide essentials in preschool children’s learning and development that cannot be mimicked in a strict, sedentary program. The practice of a strict, sedentary preschool program opposed to a one that incorporates play based learning is a warning is a major warning sign of a bad preschool.
A successful preschool program is one that incorporates play based learning. A major misconception of play-based learning is that all the classroom will do is play. This is not what occurs in a play based classroom; play time (both free play and guided play) are allotted to certain times throughout the day. Certain classrooms may have an hour of indoor and outdoor play in the morning and then an hour of play again in the afternoon, with the time in between dedicated to lunch, snack breaks, a nap break, and guided activities. Since children do not only learn through play, activities are needed. Guided activities must always be developmentally appropriate and require active participation form the children to be effective. These activities can range from science and math activities to art and music activities and even group reading with discussions after.
The incorporation of play with these guided activities is essential to the academic growth of preschool children. Play and academia can be directly related in a preschool classroom. By placing blocks in a play area, spatial learning and counting can be explored by children through playing. Placing paper and writing utensils in a play area can also prompt children to create grocery lists. The amount of direct links between play and academia is endless, but less obvious links between play and academia can also be incorporated into the classroom. For example, a teacher can incorporate the topic of study within the dramatic play center of the classroom. If a classroom is learning about insects, toys including plastic bugs, nets, jars, and so on can be added to the dramatic play center where children can act out what they have learned.
The incorporation of play based learning in a preschool classroom results in the establishment of friendly peer relationships between children. As children play they learn how to share the resources within the classroom, as well as joining pre-formed groups and negotiating what will happen while playing with other children. The implementation of play in the classroom has incredible benefits — it teaches children a plethora of information that relates to success both in and out of the classroom. It is for this reason that a warning sign of a bad preschool classroom is an adherence to a strict, sedentary program in opposition to a play based program.