A three year old boy pours his own juice into a cup at snack time. He proudly announces “no spills!” and begins to eat a healthy snack and chat with his friends.
A four year old boy sits quietly building with blocks in a corner. He becomes frustrated when the structure he is building repeatedly falls down. A teacher sitting close by asks him what he thinks the problem may be and how he can resolve it. The boy thinks for a moment, and fortifies the bottom of the tower with more blocks. When he sees the tower remains standing, he happily keeps on playing.
A four year old girl is at the art table, she seemingly scribbles on a piece of white paper in different colors. Her teacher asks, “So what did you draw today?” The girl points to the writing on the top of the page and says, “This says ‘I love Dad’.” She then indicates the writing lower down and states that it says, “I love Mom”.
These activities are fairly typical of daily life in a preschool. But what may seem as though it is simple play is in actuality children deeply entrenched in early learning. Though there is much learning to be had in teacher directed activities, there is learning through play and experience happening all day long in a preschool environment. Our juice pourer is practicing motor skills as well as social skills, while our block builder is being given the opportunity to practice critical thinking and problem solving. Our artist is learning language and literacy skills, print carries messages, and writing happens from left to right.
In the preschool environment young children learn how to take care of themselves and others. They can develop their fine and gross motor skills through such activities as puzzles and outside time. They can learn letters, numbers and colors and all the academic pieces that they will need in kindergarten. But perhaps more importantly they can also learn just how much they are capable of. They can learn that nature is even more fascinating than a video game and a close friendship more fun than an I-Pad.
Sometimes play is indeed just play, however, with plenty of opportunities, encouragement and a bit of self confidence, play can blossom into a lifelong delight in learning.