Mary Sweeney | September 21 | Cougar Chronicle

Dear New School Early Childhood Families,

I recently read an article about “Play” and how times have changed regarding this subject. I thought about how I could relate to this with my own older kids and how this relates to younger children today. I realized how in a lot of ways I wished things would go back in time.  I remember the days of throwing my backpack in my house, grabbing a snack, and racing to play outside with my friends down the street until my parents got home from work. No one worried about me being gone as long as I was back by dinner time or if I wanted to play a sport and try something new my mom signed me up and I got placed on a team.  I didn’t have to be on a competitive travel team and try out. These are just a few things I miss from the good ole’ days. Just letting kids be kids and “play.”

In Early Childhood, play is how we learn, when you think about that statement —  it is true for all of us.  To learn something new at an older age, you play around until you figure it out, or realize it is not for you. I love the fact that at The New School we have such a great balance of play-based learning and academics. 

Play-based learning has many benefits. It builds children’s language skills, problem-solving skills and fosters a love of imagination. It sparks creativity, curiosity and critical thinking. I get the privilege of seeing this around every corner at The New School. It can be as simple as watching a group of 4-year-olds build a structure by deciding what materials are needed and problem-solving together. Make no mistake, it's not always pure joy, it's not all laughter. There are sometimes tears. There is conflict. There is negotiating and compromise. Allowing the children to use their own words to express themselves, and lead this conversation, is where true learning is taking place. We can watch a group playing in the kitchen area deciding what roles each of them will play, or see the toddler imitating their caregiver feeding a baby with their imagination at work. Children in early childhood are able to explore, experiment, discover, and solve problems throughout their day. A play-based approach involves both child-initiated and teacher-supported learning, and both are vital to a strong foundation of learning. 

Powerful learning comes from children’s interest in the world around them. For example, in Ms. Chelsey’s class 2 weeks ago they discovered a wasp nest on the playground and the learning shifted to the life cycle of a wasp and the differences between a wasp and a bumblebee (True Interest = True Learning). Even our toddlers found curiosity in the caterpillars that have eaten all the leaves on the tree on the playground and wondering where they all went. Curiosity and learning are around every corner. Curiosity leads us to our passions and is the secret to creative thinkers and doers which speaks to our mission at The New School and is present at the youngest of age.

This week try using the O.W.L. approach during a part of your day and watch it play out with your children; Observe, Wait, and Listen. Observe what your child is doing quietly and listen to them carefully. When you pause and wait for a few seconds or minutes without talking, it gives your child a hint that they can start an interaction with you by sending you a message. It can be as simple as making noises back and forth with an infant/toddler to your 4-year-old asking you questions. When they do, you’ll be ready to respond by saying something that matches their interest at that moment. Then the interaction can keep going, back and forth with them guiding the conversation or play. This is child-lead interest play, we believe this is when powerful learning takes place. 

So the answer to the commonly heard question, Do they play all day? The answer is yes, your children play most of the day and yes learning is a “big” part of the play. Does this mean students are missing out on important lessons? No, lessons in fundamental academic skills, kindergarten readiness, the alphabet, writing, and more are all taking place as children “Learn through Play.”


Mary Sweeney

Head of Early Childhood 

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