Anew kind of kindergarten design in Ningbo encourages kids to learn through laughter and fun.
Thinking about what young students really need caused a major do-over for what a kindergarten could look like. What should a school do with so many noisy and fun-loving kids?
The old answer was to coax them into little chairs, keep them relatively organized and quiet, and keep a lid on their natural enthusiasm. That, at least is the standardized style of education.
But kindergarten children don't need to be forced to learn — really, they can't stop learning.
With that in mind, educators at Genesis Kindergarten Ningbo had a different idea. Research shows play-based learning enhances children’s academic and developmental learning outcomes. It can also set your child up for success in the future by teaching them relevant skills.
Whatis play-based learning?
Children are naturally motivated to play. A play-based program builds on this motivation, using play as a context for learning. In this context, children can explore, experiment, discover and solve problems in imaginative and playful ways.
A play-based approach involves both child-initiated and teacher-supported learning. The teacher encourages children’s learning and inquiry through interactions that aim to stretch their thinking to higher levels.
For example, while children are playing with blocks, a teacher can pose questions that encourage problem solving, prediction and rationalization. The teacher can also bring the child’s awareness towards mathematics, science and literacy concepts, allowing them to engage with such concepts through hands-on learning.
But should we just let them play?
How does it compare to direct instruction?
Detailed research has shown the long-term benefits of high-quality play-based kindergarten programs, where children are exposed to learning and problem solving through self-initiated activities and teacher guidance.
In contrast to play-based learning are teacher-centered approaches focused on instructing young children in basic academic skills. Although this more structured teaching and learning style is the traditional approach to early years school programs, research is emerging that play-based learning is more effective. In these recent studies, children’s learning outcomes are shown to be higher in a play-based program compared to children’s learning outcomes in direct-instruction approaches.
Research has also identified young children in direct-instruction programs can experience negative effects. These include stress, decreased motivation for learning, and behaviour problems. This is particularly so for children who are not yet ready for more formal academic instruction.
Whatcan be gained through play-based programs?
As with traditional approaches, play-based early years programs are focused on teaching and learning. In such programs, play can be in the form of free play (activity that is spontaneous and directed by the child), and guided play (also child-directed, but the teacher is involved in the activity as a co-player) with intentional teaching. Both have benefits for children’s learning. To capitalize on these benefits, an optimum play-based program will provide opportunities for both free play and guided play.
Involvement in play stimulates a child’s drive for exploration and discovery. This motivates the child to gain mastery over their environment, promoting focus and concentration. It also enables the child to engage in the flexible and higher-level thinking processes deemed essential for optimal development. These include inquiry processes of problem solving, analyzing, evaluating, applying knowledge and creativity.
Play also supports positive attitudes to learning. These include imagination, curiosity, enthusiasm, and persistence. The type of learning processes and skills fostered in play cannot be replicated through rote learning, where there is an emphasis on remembering facts.
The inquiry-based nature of play is supported through the social interactions of teachers and children. Teachers take an active role in guiding children’s interactions in the play. Children are supported in developing social skills such as cooperation, sharing and responding to ideas, negotiating, and resolving conflicts.
Teachers can also use children’s motivation and interest to explore concepts and ideas. In this way, children acquire and practice important academic skills and learning in a playful context.
Another study found children’s vocabulary and ability to tell a story was higher in a play-based classroom than a traditional classroom.
Research shows play-based programs for young children can provide a strong basis for later success at school. They support the development of socially competent learners, able to face challenges and create solutions.