Children need a learning environment that balances their natural need for play writes Meera Murugesan
WHEN she recalls her pre-school years, Jigna Doshi remembers sitting under a tree with dolls, playing house and running around with her friends.
Play was a crucial component of her early childhood and the principal and CEO of Safari Kids International Preschools Malaysia says it should always remain an important element in teaching young children.
It is through play that children learn many valuable life and social skills she explains. And play is crucial for a child’s mental health and physical wellbeing.
Unfortunately, for many of today’s parents, play is a “dirty” word and a playing child is seen as wasting time.
Jigna says many parents wrongly assume that play is a waste of time.
KEEPING PLAY IN THE EQUATION
The push and pressure to succeed academically, means children today face a rigid teaching and learning environment much earlier in life.
“I know pre-schools where children spend four hours a day doing worksheets and nothing else. And we have parents saying my child doesn’t share or doesn’t talk well. That’s because children are not born with those skills, they learn them by playing and socialising with other children.”
Jigna adds that there is a crucial need to balance play with formal learning, not just at pre-school level but even in the early primary years because children of that age learn best in an environment that’s creative, interactive and child-centred.
However, many parents wrongly assume that once the kindergarten years are over, a play based approach should have no place in the curriculum because it will affect how a child performs in exams.
Jigna says in many cases, the parents themselves are not aware of any other way or approach because they too went through an exam-oriented system.
But a play-based approach in lower primary could actually mean taking a self-learning or project based approach, a classroom where emphasis is placed on children creating things or discovering things for themselves, where they work on projects or activities together, where they get to work with their hands and touch, feel and experience a concept that is being taught.
Even something as simple as working in the school garden can teach a young child the science of how things grow and in a much more effective and long lasting manner than reading about it in a textbook.
“My pre-school students for example are able to name more dinosaurs than I can. Why? Because we had an activity where the kids moulded and made their own dinosaurs. Learning is much more effective this way and they don’t even have to memorise anything.”
Children adds Jigna need a see and touch approach because it appeals to their playful, innocent nature.
Messy play for example, which is hugely popular now is not just about giving children the opportunity to get down and dirty.
It is a sensory experience that aids in brain development and provides children with the opportunity to develop many useful skills.
Sensory play supports language development, promotes cognitive growth and motor skills and helps children develop problem solving skills and enhances social interaction.
Add to this the fact that getting wet, dirty or messy naturally appeals to a child and sensory play is always a winner.
“Through messy play, as children use their hands actively, they are naturally strengthening their fingers so writing becomes less painful. The benefits of messy play extends into other areas, including academics.”
What’s needed is for parents to develop a shift in their thinking she adds. They need to start looking at play as hugely beneficial for the child, in every aspect – physically and mentally.
“As important as bedtime reading is for a child, play is equally important. I would skip a day of reading, but not a day of play.”