Wednesday, April 19, 2017

How to Teach Your Preschoolers Through Play

One summer, when my oldest was three years old and his little brother was one, we were lounging by our apartment pool while they took a short break from the water to warm up. One of my neighbors turned to me, and gesturing to my older son, asked "So, have you decided where you're going to send him to preschool?"

I was taken aback.   I hadn't even considered sending my kids to preschool...but the question wasn't IF I would send them but WHERE.

You see, when I was a kid, going to preschool wasn't expected. But now, with academic skills being pushed earlier and earlier, Kindergarten is the new 1st grade, and preschool has become the new Kindergarten.  It's no wonder so many parents now feel its a necessity.  Sometimes even homeschoolers feel the pressure sometimes to start their kids on formal academics at a younger age.

But while there's nothing wrong with teaching academics like reading and number skills to a preschooler who seems ready and interested, what children need, what is developmentally ESSENTIAL at this age, is PLAY.   And by play I don't even mean the type of "lessons hidden in play" that I use with my own son in play school.   I mean open ended, child led, free play.

So, when I found out that Amanda from Sicily's Heart & Home was doing a Learn by Play Challenge, I invited her to to write a guest post sharing a little of how children learn through play, and to share her Play Challenge with my readers.

Play! It's such a magical thing, but most of the time we take it for granted. We, parents, tend to think that play is something kids do because it's fun. Well it is fun, but it's not why they play. Play is learning. The two words should really be together in the thesaurus. As Maria Montessori said, "Play is the work of a child." And that's exactly how children view their play. Related: Play and Learn: Can You Do Them at The Same Time? It's hard work to play all day, make discoveries, and explore different ways to do things. That's why it's crucial to start letting your children learn through play at a young age instead of doing worksheets or even pre-planned activities. My daughter, Sicily, is 2 years old. All of her learning has come from her play. Every day we start our morning with a meeting over breakfast. We talk about the calendar, our letter of the week, and theme. We don't do any formal lessons, but we do have casual conversations about these things. We end with a book that relates to our theme. Before I send her off to play...or work...I introduce a new activity that relates to our theme. Sometimes I show her specifically what to do, but then let her create her own meaning and way of using it. Other times, I just set up an invitation to create or explore without any direction. Related: How to Plan  a Child-Led Tot School We still do themes that relate to her interests, and she learns a lot about our themes. The only difference is, I don't formally teach it to her. She learns it all through play.

How to Teach Your Preschooler Through Play

1. Don't Stress

I know it's hard to not stress about your child's education. When we learn to trust our children and trust the process of learning, the stress starts to decrease. When you start intentionally adding ways to learn into your environment, you will see the learning take place. It's hard to see at first because we are programmed to view play as something fun. But when you step back and really consider what is happening, you see all the learning involved.

Let's take the picture below as an example:

To most, this may just look like she's playing in sawdust. Something fun to throw in the air, right? Well yes it is, but there is also a lot of learning happening here. To start, she watched how the saw dust was made as her step dad sawed up some wood. That alone had science, inquiry, engineering, and sensory learning. Just throwing the sawdust in the air helped her learn about gravity, force, motion, sensory processing, and of course developing those gross motor skills. She wanted to take the sawdust inside, so we talked about how we were going to leave it outside because birds could use it for their nests and bugs can make a home under it. Then she got curious and began looking under the sawdust with a magnifying glass to find bugs, so she was learning about bugs and habitats as well. So much learning from one simple little play experience.

2. Make It Fun

You don't have to just sit back and watch your child play. Actually, I discourage it. Your job is to create an environment that welcomes play and learning. Spend time observing your child and creating play experiences that relate around their interests. Most learning happens when the child is interested and has a meaningful connection to the topic. You plan the environment, but not what your child does in the environment. I encourage you to just be a spectator, unless they invite you into their play. If they invite you, then you become their puppet and do as they say. It's their learning and their play. To learn more about how to plan play experiences with learning in mind, click the image below to join the #LearnByPlayChallenge!


3. Have a Flexible Plan

I created our daily routine based on Sicily's natural behaviors. After a week of observation, I noticed that she is engaged first thing after breakfast, so this is when I planned our learning (play) time. She gets 3 hours of it, but this all depends on her mood as well. If she is having a hard time that day, play time is shortened and we usually go to the park, library, and other field trip. If she is engaged in her play, the time may extended longer until she is satisfied with the work she has completed that day. Our play time isn't always inside either. On really nice days, we have our 3 hour play time outside. This 3 hour work period is based off of Montessori's philosophy. She noted that children go through a period of false fatigue where they get super antsy and can't seem to find something to do. Most parents see this as boredom and rush to the rescue to provide an activity. But Montessori believed that if you let the child get through the false fatigue on their own, you will find super engaged, deep, and meaningful play on the other side. And I have! The 3 hour work period doesn't work every day, but most days I can find Sicily in deep concentration after she has experienced that false fatigue. This is what you don't want to interrupt either, or you may end up with a tantrum. Having a flexible plan allows you to provide activities that they can determine what to learn from it, and to allow them the time they need to experience it.


4. Trust

I said it before, and I'm going to say it again. Trust your child and the process. I had a hard time doing this at first. I'm a former teacher, so I was used to telling kids what to do and what to learn. But I've noticed with  my daughter, that when I trust her and I trust the process, the learning comes easier, faster, and she loves to learn.   (Related: Everyday Learning: It's All Around You)  Every morning she asks to do school because it's fun, meaningful, and she is learning about the things that she wants to learn about. This even includes those academic concepts like colors, shapes, numbers, and letters.


5. Understand Their Interests

I think this is the most important point in learning how to let your children learn through play. You have to set up an environment and provide child-led activities that relate to their interests. When we follow their lead and their interests, learning comes natural. Playing and learning can happen at the same time, and the most beautiful learning experiences come from this child-led approach. Remember to join me for the #LearnByPlay Challenge where I'm going to teach you 14 different ways to add play to your everyday experiences.
Much Love,  Amanda

About the Author
    Amanda is the founder of Sicily's Heart & Home where she teaches Beautiful Mamas how to teach their toddlers and preschoolers at home in a child-led environment. She is a former teacher of 11 years where she taught all ages from infants to middle schoolers. Amanda is the creator of The Toddler Experience Curriculum which is a hands-on, process-based, and child-led curriculum for toddlers ages 18 months to 3 years old. She has a 2 year old daughter and a 2 month old son. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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