Last week I was fortunate to be able to attend a talk by Bonnie Bruce, owner and executive director of Chancy and Bruce Educational Resources, which Jack’s school uses to help test for TYKE and Kindergarten readiness.
Going into this talk I thought I’d get tips and tricks for how to best prep Jack for this assessment, but what I came to understand is that school readiness is not something a child is trained for. Rather, it is understanding who your child is and where there at, while providing opportunities for activities and open play to help enhance their natural development.
The Importance of play in early child development
Bruce emphasized children learn best through play and that the latest research on early child development continues to validate this. When core curriculums like math, reading, writing, and spelling are pushed too early before it’s developmentally appropriate, it can actually turn children off to learning and damper self-confidence.
According to Bruce, readiness for more formal academic instructional curriculum is typically closer to ages 6-6.5 years once the corpus callosum connects starts to connect the right (creativity, imaginative play) and left (reading, writing, problem solving critical thinking) hemispheres of the brain. This allows for the beginnings of abstract thinking, critical awareness and longer attention spans.
“The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child’s social skills in the third grade.” – Motherly, “How Unstructured Play is Actually So Important”
Bruce stated the brain needs to be stimulated and challenged, but the activities should be what is “brain appropriate” or “developmentally appropriate” for their age level. For early childhood development, Bruce recommends a foundation based on play. Most importantly – unstructured play. We can help promote our children’s development and play through providing developmental appropriate opportunities and materials to help them interact with their world.
“We have a tendency to provide children with so much structure that we are teaching them “what” to think, rather than “how to think.” The “how” to think comes through self-directed play and plenty of unstructured time” – Chancy & Bruce
According to Bruce, children need to be involved in 1 to 1.5 hours of “non instructed movement” a day – basically this means play when someone isn’t telling the child what they should be doing. Free play isn’t planned and lets your child use his imagination to move at his own pace.
“Children learn from seeing, hearing, touching, and experiencing. To interpret reality, children most explore their surroundings through imagination and discovery. Children need unhurried periods of time to explore and experiment with objects, toys, or materials from their environment.” – Chancy & Bruce
Here are a few examples of the benefits of unstructured play:
- Improves preschoolers’ expressive vocabulary (speaking) and receptive vocabulary (understanding) as children talk and listen to each other while they play, particularly through pretend play
- Enhances visual spatial skills through playing with blocks or objects, linked to better performance in STEM learning
- Helps children learn how to work in groups, share, negotiate, and resolve conflicts – which builds resiliency they’ll need to face future challenges
- Enriches brain growing power when children engage their interests, imagine, seek out an answer, or ponder a question
- Allows for the ability to explore things in depth – young children learn best through touch and handling materials
- Teaches children how to self direct and build decision making skills – moving at their own pace, and pursuing what interests them
- Helps with visual motor integration and hand+eye coordination (later needed for writing)
- Provides a chance to assert themselves, build confidence, and feel important
- Prepares them for how to deal with the unexpected
Play boosts brain power
Playing isn’t just for fun – it’s learning and essential to a child’s growth and development (and of course, fun too!). As both adults and children move, their brains lights up and that makes them more receptive to learning and development. Bruce referenced her 92 year old mother, who still lifts weights to help keep her mind sharp.
I dug a little more into the science behind this and found multiple studies demonstrating movement that gets your heart pumping appears to boost the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with verbal memory and learning. Active kids have also been shown to have better concentration and longer attention spans.
“Encourage young boys and girls to run, jump, squeal, hop, and chase after each other or after erratically kicked balls, and you substantially improve their ability to think” – NY Times, “How Exercise Can Boost Young Brains”
- Chancy & Bruce Educational Resources, “Understanding the Building Blocks of Learning”
- Motherly “Unstructured Play is Actually So Important For Brain Development”
- NY Times “ How Exercise Can Boost Young Brains”