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Work of Learning: Academic Focus or Learn through Play

When I poke around the various sections here, I come across several questions asking about the best flashcards, the best way to teach a toddler or preschooler to read or hit other milestones early, the best workbooks... I see preschools that fall into the "learn through play" mocked by some CM members. The NY Times has a piece up now on this topic - Childhood play and it's value. After looking it over, what's your take?

Essay in Blog: The Mess of Child's Play

Article: The Movement to Restore Children's Play Gains Momentum.

Excert from NYTimes Blogger, Lisa Belkin's post:

“Play is the work of children,” Captain Kangaroo (a k a Bob Keeshan) once said. “It’s very serious stuff.”

Equally serious, therefore, is the fact that children are getting less plain old play time lately. As my colleague Hilary Stout explores in the Home section today, a long list of social changes — the increased presence of screens and electronics, the decreased percentage of children who live near a playground or park, the escalation of parental fears about leaving children unsupervised, the growing pressure on schools to spend classroom time on academic pursuits — all make it harder for children to do their work.


Asked by ldmrmom at 5:55 PM on Jan. 6, 2011 in Parenting Debate

Level 25 (24,648 Credits)
This question is closed.
Answers (10)
  • I am a therapist and I use play therapy as a tool to assist parents in improving their parent/child relationship as well as assisting the child work through and process trauma or issues they may have. Play is the natural language of children. It is the way they process and articulate what is going on in their inner world. In fact, play is only universal language. ALL kids from every culture play. How do kids learn? 80% of learning is experience - for adults and children. I am a fan of real world experience instead of flash cards. Sometimes flash cards can be a very useful tool. But not all kids learn in the same way. Some are more visual, some are more tactile, some learn better through auditorymeans.  My son learns more from doing and hands on.  I am a big fan of Montessori because it incorporates so much of the play therapy concepts.


    Answer by frogdawg at 9:10 AM on Jan. 7, 2011

  • I am a huge fan of learning through play. My DD knows all of her ABCs and each sound the letters make, never having been exposed to flashcards. There are so many other fun ways to teach letters and phonics that do not involve workbooks or flashcards.

    Answer by KairisMama at 7:47 PM on Jan. 6, 2011

  • I refuse to spend my kids time at home cramming for some imaginary exam to prove they are smarter than the other kids out there. I don't do flashcards, workbooks, videos or push them to read before they are ready. I do teach them to write their names and recognize their letters because they seemed interested in that. My 4yo might not be able to read but she can probably do a lot of things kids her age can't like: entertain herself for long periods of time without me right next to her (I'll even go take a nap), use the microwave, get her own breakfast, make herself a sandwich, use a butter knife, color in the lines (since she was 2 1/2), fold her own laundry, can walk down the street to visit with her friend without someone holding her hand, can cross a street without help, can clean up her own messes she makes and lots more.

    Answer by justanotherjen at 9:23 PM on Jan. 6, 2011

  • We are unschoolers, also known as free-schoolers, or child-led learners. But what it basically boils down to is my children learn thru play, and learn thru living. They are provided with a rich environment, and I facilitate their learning, rather than trying to force it. They are about to be 5 and 7 years old, but they will never be placed in a traditional school, nor will they ever have lessons or curriculum to follow.

    Answer by my2.5boys at 7:56 PM on Jan. 6, 2011

  • I'm glad to see the replies. This is one of my hot button soap box issues. ;) I cringe when I hear complaints that a preschool isn't academic enough or the My Baby Can Read questions.

    My kids did learn a number of 'academic' things early - but they didn't learn a single on of them through flash cards, workbooks or academically rigorous preschool schools. we've very big believers in play and experienced based learning. Everything from letters, numbers to astronomy and butterfly life cycles was all through play and games. Today? they love learning because they've discovered that learning is fun. kids need to be kids. They need to have time to just do silly things and imaginative things. When I think of adult problem solving skills I think about a need to be able to think outside the box and tap into an imagination - that comes from play enriched childhoods, not workbooks and flash cards.

    Comment by ldmrmom (original poster) at 9:57 PM on Jan. 6, 2011

  • I didn't even have to read the article to know my opinion. Play is where children first start learning. It's crucial for a child to be able to play. Fortunately, there are way to incorporate early academics into play as well. I constantly take my 15 month old to different and new places for new experiences, and all involve play. I often see him discover or learn a new skill while playing and exploring.

    I completely agree with Captain Kangaroo! :)

    Answer by LovingSAHMommy at 10:14 PM on Jan. 6, 2011

  • And one more thing...I wish everyone would just let kids be kids!

    Answer by LovingSAHMommy at 10:16 PM on Jan. 6, 2011

  • As another interesting fact, the creator of the play therapy concept was also a friend of Maria Montessori. Play therapy was derived from the concept of the Montessori method.  It is about noticing how children learn and what works best for them.


    Answer by frogdawg at 9:12 AM on Jan. 7, 2011

  • Wonderful! Only I do not say "play." I say "CREATE." Artistic and musical. :)

    Answer by 2tinyhineys at 4:06 PM on Jan. 7, 2011

  • it also works well with slightly older kids

    Answer by Roadfamily6now at 8:42 PM on Jan. 7, 2011