Another kindergarten teacher came into my classroom lately, saw my dramatic play center, sensory table, and building center and said, “I used to have all of that a long time ago, but I had to give it all up.” I’ve been thinking about that exchange over and over since then and there is a single word I keep coming back to:
Dramatic play is an important tool in building a student’s social and emotional development, as well as their oral language. According to researcher Doris Bergen, ”Several researchers have argued that play and language promote children’s development of expressive tones as well as their perception of the rules underlying the use of voice or conversation patterns of language." (2002) Vygostky also shows that young children need to be able to learn through play because play serves as the scaffold that helps them reach higher levels of cognition:
”Play creates a zone of proximal development in the child. In play, the child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself. As in the focus of a magnifying glass, play contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form and is itself a major source of development. (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 102)
Sensory play develops cognitive function, as students work with multiple senses simultaneously. Sensory play also develops fine motor skills as children practice grasping, picking up, and squeezing fine objects. It calms children’s anxiety, helps them develop creativity and balance, and broadens their knowledge base through interactions with real objects.
Block play helps children develop the basic principles of engineering and spatial awareness. They learn cause and effect, social skills, and problem solving.
All of this playful interaction helps wire a child’s prefrontal cortex and grounds their learning in deep and meaningful real world experiences.
Why would you ever get rid of that?
We can keep "learning through play" in kindergarten if we, as early childhood educators, stick to what we know is best for the young children in our charge. Our kindergarten classrooms must be filled with play, song, discovery, movement, games, experiments, choice, dramatization, and excitement. Academic concepts should be delivered in the ways that are most developmentally appropriate for growing children and their growing brains.
In 2012 I made the sign below, and posted it on Facebook. The sign has reached over 300,000 shares, and the number keeps growing. Every time I look at how many teachers have seen this sign, liked it, and spread it, I am given renewed hope in the future of developmental appropriateness of kindergarten! In 2012 I didn't think I would ever see the pendulum move back towards play-based kindergarten, but six years later I think we are getting back on track!
I am in Kindergarten
Perhaps what we have needed all along is the language to explain to our share holders what we are doing in our spaces and why what we do is so important.
I love my center signs that justify play in a kindergarten, t-kindergarten, or preschool classroom. They inform the viewer the importance of play-based activities in regards to the learning that is taking place at each defined area around the classroom and help give teachers the language they need to share the importance of real world, engaging, playful interactions in the classroom. These signs (available in two styles) are quickly approaching the status as our top selling product.
In the end, you are the architect of your own early childhood/early elementary classroom, and you know what your children need to being doing in that room. Don’t ever let someone tell you that a “playhouse” is just fun and not rigorous. One moment of eavesdropping on the work going on in that space and it is clear that statement is false. Don’t ever let someone tell you that your art center is just “cute”. Behind that cuteness is deep thinking about lines, space, geometry, color, individuality, and fine motor development. The work that young children do is important. It matters. YOU matter. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. DAP is rigorous!