pretend to eat it and the toddler gets much delight in that interaction and keeps giving you more and more invisible things to gobble up! All of this pretend play, research now shows, is the foundation for future learning including using symbols in reading and writing. Another gut-level tenant of education is that children need to have mastered self-control in order to be successful in school. A child must be able to stay seated and stay quiet while the teacher is talking. A child needs to be able to line up and walk to various places in the school without hitting the neighbor in line with him/her or running ahead of the group. A child needs to wait his/ her turn and learn that everyone cannot be first at the same time or all the time. A child needs to learn that there are winners and losers. A child needs to be able to independently stay on task and complete the work assigned to him/her without being distracted or begging for help. Self-control, recent research has found, is part of a larger group of skills called executive functioning.This re-
search confirms that executive functioning is absolutely necessary for success in school and later life, as well. The most exciting finding today for early childhood education is in the area of brain research. With the help of magnetic resolution imagery (MRI) of the brain, we know that pretend play helps develop that part of the brain that enables a child to have executive functioning skills which in turn leads to learning. Children who have ample opportunities to practice pretend play have higher test scores in both reading and math. Pretend play and executive functioning are linked to numerous other outcomes such as increased language and communication skills, increased creativity and problem solving skills, and increased ability to take perspective of others, to engage in critical thinking, to making connections, to taking on challenges, and to becoming an engaged, self-directed learner. No more mere â€œgut-feelingsâ€? that pretend play is good for children, brain research proves it.
With all this research about the link among pretend play, learning, and brain growth and executive functioning, why is play being eliminated in Kindergarten and PreK classrooms in America?
Recent School Trends and Why People View Play Negatively â€œLearning is not childâ€™s play; we cannot learn without pain.â€? â€” Aristotle â€œPlay is the work of the child.â€? â€” Piaget Unfortunately, many agree more with Aristotle and view play as the opposite of work and the opposite of learning. Sharon Lynn Kagan proposed that many view play as an â€œoxymoron to school readiness.â€?The problem with these beliefs is that research shows us how children learn during the early years â€” and children do indeed learn through play. Undeniably, young children under the age of eight learn very differently than older children.Young children need to explore the environment and use all see PRETEND PLAY page 18
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SouthEast Education Network Â™ FALL 2013
Southeast Education Network issue 15.2