Play – A Key to Early Childhood Learning
Earlier Academic Instruction Doesn’t Deliver
Preschools and kindergartens across the country operate under the belief “the earlier is better” when it comes to academic instruction. Not only are these assumptions not supported by research, an early focus on academics cannot be traced to overall intellectual success. In her study, “Lively Minds: Distinctions between academic versus intellectual goals for young children,” Lilian G. Katz, professor emerita at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, takes a look at early childhood education and the effects of different curricula.
In regard to the ongoing debate between time devoted to free play and formal academics, Katz believes there’s a third piece that needs to be considered: the pursuit of intellectual goals. “Intellectual goals are those that address the life of the mind in its fullest sense,” writes Katz. “Another major component of education…must be to provide a wide range of experiences, opportunities, resources and contexts that will provoke, stimulate, and support children’s innate intellectual dispositions.” This includes skills such as forming conclusions, hypothesizing, and the development of ideas.
Early childhood education is most effective when children actively engage these skills. School programs that encourage intellectual goals have been shown to have long-term positive effects. “Preschool programs are best when they focus on social, emotional and intellectual goals rather than narrow academic goals,” writes Katz. “Intellectual dispositions may be weakened or even damaged by excessive and premature formal instruction.” In other words, children learn best when offered opportunities to use their natural inclinations.
At Minnesota Children’s Museum, we are dedicated to the pursuit of intellectual goals during play. We are advocates of the seven lifelong skills that we believe are vital to childhood development that are developed through play. At the Museum, we create experiences designed to cultivate the powers of play. We purposely try to draw out these skills in our visitors, young and old. Our goal in any exhibit or program is to nourish the development of one or more of the seven powers of play in any way. Whether you’re splashing around the water tables in World Works or exploring Minnesota’s environment in Earth World, our exhibits are geared especially to cultivate these important skills. Come visit us soon!