Play is the Work of Childhood

“But now you’re three, and all we have to break you of is this tendency to be distracted by childlike wonder and joy, and this ridiculous desire to play all the time. We must get you ready for Kindergarten, or you will never get into a good college…”
-Excerpt from Memo to Three-Year-Old Slackers

Play is the work of childhood
Wall Quotes

A while back I hinted that I was happy Reece wasn’t in preschool yet, but that wasn’t completely true. I liked that he could play all day at home with me and that we could spend time outside “adventuring” together, but I’ve always wanted him to be in preschool at some point.

He’s super social and I knew he would love it, plus I knew preschool would facilitate play by giving him access to all the things I only have in the playroom of my dreams. A little more structure in our mostly unscheduled days wouldn’t hurt either.

Finding a great preschool turned out to be an easier task than I thought. I was lucky and liked the first one I toured, which I know is unusual.

The preschool we chose for Reece has the kids spending much of their time outside, the children’s artwork hanging in the classroom is all creative, unguided art and everything is setup to encourage free play. Not only that, but the preschool promotes healthy eating through class gardens where they harvest produce for snack time. Bonus points for being a green campus and a Christian school.

I feel fortunate that we found a place that supports so much of what we value.

The one thing I wasn’t at all concerned about when researching preschools for my four-year-old: academics. Take a look at any kindergarten readiness checklist. There is very little there as far as academics go other than being able to recognize letters and numbers, which any kid interested in books learns very easily on their own just by getting read to.

While Reece’s preschool does have an academic component, I would be perfectly fine with it if it had none. There are good reasons to be wary of preschools that stress academics.

While a child that knows how to recite their alphabet, count, write letters and numbers, etc is all very impressive to adults and makes parents feel that they have bragging rights, it actually means nothing as far as a child’s intelligence and future success.

In fact, by age 10, students who received play-based early learning are more advanced than their peers on every count, including math, reading, overall intelligence and creativity. Woah. So then why is everyone so concerned about pushing academics on our young children?

As parents, we tend to get caught up in wanting our children to get a head start, which is why there are so many educational toys on the market (when in actuality they have little to do with anything our kids learn). We forget that the biggest head start we can give them is simply letting them play, which is where the best learning takes place.

Creativity will be an asset to my children in whatever they end up doing for their careers, whether they are engineers or architects, artists or writers. I certainly don’t want to stifle that by getting caught up in academics earlier than necessary.

All of this said, I think it’s important to pay attention to our children’s interests and go from there.

If your kid shows an interest in learning how to write letters, show him how to write some. This happened a couple years ago with Reece when he was playing with a Magna Doodle and said, “Look, mom! I drew an A!” It may have been an accident that first time, but it prompted an interest from him of learning how to write other letters, especially the ones in his name.

So at a pretty young age, he wrote his name for the first time. Not because he is a genius and not because I pushed him into it or sat him down and did letters with him, but because he initiated it.

Follow your kid’s interests, don’t avoid teaching them something if they express an interest, but don’t whip out the flashcards just because you think you need to prep them for future success. Einstein Never Used Flashcards anyway.

Sending them outside to play is more important than any of that.

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Comments 7

  • Have you read the book Taking Back Childhood by Nancy Carlsson-Paige? She talks a lot about play in childhood, and there are a lot of great other things in there, too. I’d highly recommend it, you know, in your spare time. 🙂

  • I loved this post! I agree tremendously that kids these days are bombarded with such high standards at this age. I have a 3 yr old and he already has shown great interst in building and putting things together. I think it’s ok if I read aloud to him, for example while he plays, then he’ll join me when a certain part of the book interests him. I was so worried that he just wouldn’t sit still, but when he’s interested, he does for a longer period of time as he’s gotten older. I make sure that he gets outdoor/play time everyday- it’s so important for kids to be kids;)

  • Great post! As a nanny to small children I couldn’t agree with you more! Glad you found a place you love!

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