What Kids Need From Grown-Ups (But Aren’t Getting)

As a coach, I have been told I should just let them play and avoid doing too many drills. Click here to read the full article or an excerpt below.

 

What does playful learning look like?

Playful learning is embedded in relationships and in things that are meaningful to children. I use the example of the iconic [handprint] Thanksgiving turkey. When you really get into what’s behind those cutesy crafts, a lot of curriculum is organized around these traditions, things around the calendar, things that are done because they’ve always been done.

When you look at how kids learn, they learn when something is meaningful to them, when they have a chance to learn through relationships — and that, of course, happens through play. But a lot of our curriculum is organized around different principles.

It’s organized around the comfort and benefit of adults and also reflexive: “This is cute,” or, “We’ve always done this.” A lot of the time, as parents, we are trained to expect products, cute projects. And I like to say that the role of art in preschool or kindergarten curriculum should be to make meaning, not necessarily things. But it’s hard to get parents to buy into this idea that their kids may not come home with the refrigerator art because maybe they spent a week messing around in the mud.

Preschool teachers are very interested in fine motor skills, and so often they think that these tracing and cutting activities [are important]. I would argue that those are not the most important skills that we need to foster.

What are the most important skills we need to foster?

I think the No. 1 thing is that children need to feel secure in their relationships because, again, we’re social animals. And children learn through others. So I think the No. 1 thing is for kids to have a chance to play, to make friends, to learn limits, to learn to take their turn.

You’re talking about soft skills, non-cognitive skills …

I actually won’t accept the term non-cognitive skills.

Social-emotional skills?

I would say social-emotional skills. But, again, there’s a kind of simplistic notion that there’s social-emotional skills on the one hand …

And academics on the other …

Right, and I would argue that many so-called academic skills are very anti-intellectual and very uncognitive. Whereas I think a lot of the social-emotional skills are very much linked to learning.

I think the biggest one is the use of language. When kids are speaking to one another and listening to one another, they’re learning self-regulation, they’re learning vocabulary, they’re learning to think out loud. And these are highly cognitive skills. But we’ve bought into this dichotomy again. I would say “complex skills” versus “superficial” or “one-dimensional skills.”

To give you an example, watching kids build a fort is going to activate more cognitive learning domains than doing a worksheet where you’re sitting at a table. The worksheet has a little pile of pennies on one side and some numbers on the other, and you have to connect them with your pencil. That’s a very uni-dimensional way of teaching skills.

Whereas, if you’re building a fort with your peers, you’re talking, using higher-level language structures in play than you would be if you’re sitting at a table. You’re doing math skills, you’re doing physics measurement, engineering — but also doing the give-and-take of, “How do I get along? How do I have a conversation? What am I learning from this other person?” And that’s very powerful.

 

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