Are you asking the right questions? Consider the following when making the right choice of school for your child.
Have you ever considered the time, effort and energy put into designing a twelve-storey building? While what you see above the ground is beautiful and often impressive, the real work in keeping that building standing is what has happened at foundation level. It is below the slab that counts. This is where precise planning and design is developed, making the foundation strong enough for a twelve-storey building to stand the test of time.
Early childhood development and child well-being sets the foundation, preparing children for twelve years of formal schooling. It is through purposeful play that children learn.
What do we define as purposeful play?
Albert Einstein once said that play is the highest form of learning. A child’s play is ultimately his exploration of his world. It is when the child is playing that he develops an understanding of the world around him, how it functions, what it is made up of and where he fits in. It is a natural process and a means of discovery, experience and exploration. It is during play that children develop language skills, problem-solving skills, organisational skills, emotional skills and social skills. Play creates opportunities for the child to become more independent, to set their own rules, to make choices, is spontaneous and enjoyable and is controlled and dominated by the child.
If children learn through play, how then do teachers teach through play?
It is the role of the teacher to prepare the environment for effective purposeful play to happen. Her role is that of facilitator, allowing children to be actively involved in the learning process. She creates opportunities during the day for children to discover, explore and experience. In setting of the environment and providing opportunities in the daily programme, this is what children learn and develop while playing:
Physical Development – is seen as one of the most important parts of a child’s development; it includes the development of gross motor skills and involves the movement of the large muscles of the body. It includes activities that incorporate balance, agility, co-ordination, flexibility, speed and endurance. It also includes the development of fine motor skills, the smaller muscles in the body. Activities to develop these skills are those that focus on dexterity, precision and the ability to manipulate various implements. Fine motor skills are further developed through activities such as tearing, scrunching, rolling, pinching and cutting, to name but a few. As stated in the book, The Young Child in Context, Marike de Witt says the value of play for the physical development of the child is as follows:
- Helps the child to gain control over his body and enhances self-concept
- Helps muscle development
- Helps to develop physical strength
- Increases speed in movement
- It envelopes the senses
- Provides challenges
- Allows for repetition and practice of skills
- Refines hand-eye co-ordination
- Develops self-awareness
- Encourages health and fitness
- Is an outlet for energy.
Cognitive Development – is referred to as the mental process through which children acquire knowledge and how they process and apply what they have learned. It involves conscious thought about themselves and the world around them and those they come into contact with. There is a relationship between cognition and language and, as children talk, we begin to understand what they are thinking. This thinking can also be indicated through gestures such as laughing during a game of peek-a-boo for an infant, as well as when children rote count 1 – 100 but don’t really understand the concept of the numbers. Jean Piaget indicated that cognitive development is twofold:
- Learning is a process of discovery – what do I need to solve a problem?
- Learning involves active thought – it is by making mental connections among objects, that understanding is gained.
Knowledge is gained when the child actively and internally constructs knowledge, by interacting with it. (Labinowitz, 1980). Knowledge, according to Piaget, is divided into three types:
- Physical knowledge – by touching magnets to paper clips and paper, they learn which sticks and which does not.
- Logical mathematical knowledge – derives from co-ordinating physical objects into some form of order, such as taking the magnet to a metal drawer to make it stick.
- Social knowledge – comes from our culture; using the right vocabulary, the right rules and the right moral codes allowing us to be accepted into their cultural environments.
So then, when developing a curriculum for cognitive development to take place, we need to consider the following and it should include rote knowledge, which is informal and has no particular meaning.
Meaningful knowledge is understood when children learn gradually within the context they know; they learn from the known to the unknown. The programme should allow for children to choose so that they can begin to practise what happens in a democracy and formulate their own genuine answers. Play experiences develop thinking skills and opportunities for self-reflection. Materials and activities encourage children to discover, experiment and explore, allowing for stimulation and interaction with peers. Giving children time for learning to happen is critical and should include long blocks of uninterrupted child-initiated activities. The teacher acts as facilitator to impart information, guide and provide an emotionally safe and intellectual stimulating space for children to learn. The curriculum content is to be reflective of the environment children find themselves in, which is real and of interest to their own life.
Social and Emotional Development – refers to the process through which children learn what behaviour is acceptable and expected in society. It reflects the values of the family and society in which the child lives. Social development starts at birth and it is through engagement with others that children learn what is socially correct and what is not. It is about learning acceptable social behaviour and is essential for later success in life. Children learn through imitation and so they mimic what they see and adapt social expectations to their own understanding of who they are.
Psychologist Lev Vygotsy was also interested in the role that social interaction plays on cognitive development and argued that development first takes place on a social level. It is when children imitate what they see that they learn. It is, then, when parents and teachers guide children to use appropriate acceptable behaviour.
In order for the young child to integrate successfully into the formal stages of schooling, the following social skills should be established:
- Being able to engage with other children and form positive relationships with them
- Less egocentric and able to see others’ point of view
- Able to share more willingly
- Able to conform to a group of friends and engage in a meaningful way
- Engage in meaningful play and take others’ point of view into consideration
- Has a positive self-image
- Not reliant on his parents.
Furthermore, social skills are learned as an individual, where children learn to take responsibility for themselves and their own actions and activities. Social skills are also learned as they interact with their peers on a one-on-one basis, where they learn to compromise and take turns. They learn how to resolve conflict on the one hand, as well as learning to be assertive on the other. Finally social skills are learned where children learn to take turns, participate in a group, learn how move away from social interaction if needed and how to deal with delayed gratification, how to wait.
The teacher’s role is to provide ample opportunity for social interaction to take place within an environment that is safe. She is the organiser, creating a physical and interpersonal environment that promotes the development of social interaction and skills through play.
Emotional Development – is seen as a pre-requisite for any further learning. Developing self-esteem in young children is to develop a sense of identity in them, a confidence to try anything they set their mind to. It is for them to feel connected, that they belong, that they are important. They are one of a kind; they are unique and have the power to achieve. It is important for us as teachers to promote the above principles in your children. They learn that they are important and valued, and as they enter our classrooms that it is their safe place. They are given encouragement to show initiative and to make choices and, in doing so, learn how to hold on to something and when to let go. It is our role as teachers to develop independence by allowing children to do things on their own, such as like looking after their belongings and dressing themselves.
As stated in the book Beginnings and Beyond, Gordon and Browne say, “A positive sense of self is critical for young children. Research shows that low self-image is correlated with poor mental health, poor academic achievement and delinquency, while positive self-image has the opposite effect.”
The teacher’s role is to ensure the following milestones are in place in order for children to meet the demands and successfully be ready for formal schooling:
- Have a sense of adventure and able to explore the world around them
- Ask questions regularly and whether they expect an answer immediately
- Can they make choice for themselves?
- Are they independent of an adult?
- Are they able to express how they feel?
- Can they act with confidence?
The above lays the foundation for developing a whole child, a foundation that will in turn develop a child to reach their full potential and in turn set the foundation for further learning to take place.
HeronBridge College Pre-Preparatory strives to reach all the developmental goals important for learning and preparing children for twelve years of formal schooling and, in so doing, lay a strong educational foundation.
Honours: Bachelor of Education with Early Childhood Development Specialisation.
References: 1. De Wit, M.W. 2009. The young child in context. A thematic Approach. Pretoria. Van Schaik. 2. Gordan, A.M. & Browne, K.W. 2008. Beginnings and Beyond: foundations in early childhood education. Seventh Edition. New York. Delmar 3. Excell, L. & Linington, V. Teaching Grade R. Cape Town. JutaAuthor: Tarryn Payne