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WHY PLAY IS SO IMPORTANT IN THE EARLY YEARS

WHY PLAY IS SO IMPORTANT IN THE EARLY YEARS

Play is crucial to a child’s healthy development, it’s how they learn best, and how they work out who they are, how the world works and where they fit into it.

Play is crucial to a child’s healthy development. According to raisingchildren.net.au, “Play is more than just fun for babies and children. It’s how they learn best, and how they work out who they are, how the world works and where they fit into it.” Much of the literature in this area describes the importance of play as essential for a child’s brain development.

Play helps a child:

  • build confidence
  • feel loved, happy and safe
  • develop social skills, language and communication
  • learn about caring for others and the environment
  • develop physical skills.

According to Early Childhood Australia, “While there is no one definition of play, there are a number of agreed characteristics that describe play. Play can be described as:

  • pleasurable-play is an enjoyable and pleasurable activity. Play sometimes includes frustrations, challenges and fears; however enjoyment is a key feature
  • symbolic-play is often pretend, it has a ‘what if?’ quality. The play has meaning to the player that is often not evident to the educator
  • active-play requires action, either physical, verbal or mental engagement with materials, people, ideas or the environment
  • voluntary-play is freely chosen. However, players can also be invited or prompted to play
  • process oriented-play is a means unto itself and players may not have an end or goal in sight
  • self motivating-play is considered its own reward to the player (Shipley, 2008).”

Play-based learning is described in the National Curriculum Early Years Learning Framework as ‘a context for learning through which children organise and make sense of their social worlds, as they actively engage with people, objects and representations’ (EYLF, 2009, p. 46).

A preschool based on a Reggio Emilia philosophy values the importance of play in the early years. 

Brain development

It is believed that play shapes the structural design of the brain. We know that secure attachments and stimulation are significant aspects of brain development; play provides active exploration that assists in building and strengthening brain pathways. 

Young children’s play allows them to explore, identify, negotiate, take risks and create meaning. The intellectual and cognitive benefits of playing have been well documented. Children who engage in quality play experiences are more likely to have well-developed memory skills, language development, and are able to regulate their behaviour, leading to enhanced school adjustment and academic learning (Bodrova & Leong, 2005).

Fostering play-based programs

Physically active play allows children to test and develop all types of motor skills. It promotes significant health and wellbeing benefits. 

One of the greatest benefits of playing is to assist with the development of social competence. Children can build relationships, learn to resolve conflicts, negotiate and regulate their behaviours. In play, children usually have increased feelings of success and optimism as they act as their own agents and make their own choices. Playing is a known stress release; it is often linked to child wellbeing.

Playing is linked to the development of resilience and the beginnings of empathy as children begin to understand other points of view. 

References

Bodrova, E. & Leong, D. J. (2005). Uniquely preschool: What research tells us about the ways young children learn. Educational Leadership, 63(1), 44-47.

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). (2009). Belonging, being & becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Canberra: DEEWR.

TECHNOLOGY AND EARLY LEARNING – DOES YOUR CHILD NEED IT?

Technology and digital media are an integral part of many adults’ lives, and the same is true for many children today. Not long ago, the conversation about digital media and early childhood learning focused on whether or not these new technologies should be part of early childhood education, at home or at school. But in recent years, the conversation has shifted to an acknowledgment that these things are a part of learning.

A recurring theme in all of the literature and studies conducted around technology and early learning is that while digital media can provide significant learning benefits for young learners, the adult-child relationship is essential to obtaining these learning benefits. 

According to the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning & Children’s Media, “It’s through relationships that we grow and learn best. This straightforward statement might offer the most essential clue to understanding how children gain the most learning benefit from their interactions with media and technology. Building on this, the essential question might be:

How does a child’s interaction with media and technology strengthen relationships?

It might be helpful to think about a child’s relationships in three ways:

  1. The child’s relationship to self: We might ask how the experience helps a child to understand and express him- or herself and to develop both competence and confidence.
  2. The child’s relationship to others: How does the experience help a child to connect, collaborate and share ideas with peers, family and others?
  3. The child’s relationship to the larger world, community and environment: For example, how might the experience help a child to appreciate the natural world or gain understanding and empathy for the lives of people and other creatures near and far?”

Early Childhood Australia (ECA) has developed a comprehensive statement on young children and digital technologies in response to an identified need for guidance for early childhood professionals. The following excerpt outlines part of the statement developed by Early Childhood Australia, an organisation whose vision is that every young child is thriving and learning.

“The experience of growing up in digital contexts is not universally the same—not every child and family will use, value or understand digital technologies in the same way. As such, there is no simple answer to understanding the role and optimal use of digital technologies with, by and for young children in early childhood education settings. Instead of working towards a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, this practice advice recognises that educators are skilled at working in partnership with children and families, and making decisions in the best interests of the child.”

Play and pedagogy

Young children have opportunities for play and pedagogy in digital contexts. Play and pedagogy involve children using a range of digital devices for exploration, meaning-making, collaboration and problem-solving. Educators engage in active decision making about the use and non-use of digital technologies for learning.

Principle: Play and pedagogy promotes young children’s exploration, social interaction, collaboration and learning in digital contexts

Practice advice:

  1. Provide opportunities for children to explore and experiment with the functions of a diverse range of digital technologies alongside adult modelling and instruction in digital technology use.
  2. Promote play involving children in digital technology use with digital and non-digital tools and materials to build knowledge about the use of technologies for communication, collaboration and information sharing.
  3. Seek young children’s perspectives regarding the role and use of digital technologies in their own lives, play and learning.
  4. Model active decision making regarding digital technology use with, by and for young children that provides a balance of digital and non-digital experiences and activities in early childhood education and care settings.
References

More information and a detailed statement from Early Childhood Australia can be found here:

TECHNOLOGY AND EARLY LEARNING – DOES YOUR CHILD NEED IT?
THE REGGIO EMILIA PHILOSOPHY

THE REGGIO EMILIA PHILOSOPHY

The Reggio Emilia philosophy encourages children to learn through play and discover the world around them by experiencing it.

The Reggio Emilia philosophy is an innovative and inspiring approach to early childhood education, which values the child as strong, capable and resilient; rich with wonder and knowledge. Every child brings with them deep curiosity and potential and this innate curiosity drives their interest to understand their world and their place within it.

The Reggio Emilia philosophy encourages children to learn through play and discover the world around them by experiencing it. Through this approach, children feed their curiosity, develop higher level skills and become lifelong learners.

There are a number of reasons why this philosophy is so successful.

The environment is a teacher

The Reggio Emilia philosophy treats a child’s environment as a teacher. The approach encourages children to learn from their surroundings, from both the indoor and outdoor settings. This helps to apply learning to real world situations and make connections that have meaning to your child. This approach is hands-on and provides endless stimulation, feeding a child’s curiosity and encouraging exploration. Learning through their environment will always be adventurous in a preschool based on the Reggio Emilia philosophy.

Learning is child-led

Your child will be in the driver seat of their learning at a preschool based on the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Children become be more invested in what they are learning when they are allowed to have a say in the content. They are active in steering the direction of what they want to do –  with teachers crucially important to everything the child does. The teachers act more like coaches and mentors, gently guiding children in their learning. 

Problem solving skills are developed

Through guided and structured learning tasks, children have the freedom to research and explore ways to reach their learning goals. The Reggio Emilia approach provides plenty of opportunities for research, experimentation and ample scenarios to develop creativity and critical thinking skills.

Education is about community

Education works hand in hand with every other aspect of life. It never works in isolation. Schools that use the Reggio Emilia approach involve parents, educators, the rest of the preschool as well as the community to educate children. Teachers work in partnership with families and the community to achieve common goals as part of the students’ learning experience. Parents are welcomed into the educational spaces, invited to share their ideas and skills and join their children in their learning journey. This helps children to transition to  different stages of schooling as well as life after school. 

TIPS FOR PREPARING YOUR TODDLER FOR PRESCHOOL

Here are some top tips to help get your little one prepared for preschool.

Tips for preparing your toddler for preschool

Here are some top tips to help get your little one prepared for preschool. Starting something new can be a daunting prospect, even as adults, change can bring a sense of worry. When you’re a child, it can seem overwhelming. Some children will be ready at the door with their backpack on, eager to start preschool. Others will be worried and anxious. Regardless of how your child is feeling, these are some top tips to help get your little one prepared.

Talk about preschool to your child

Talk about the things your child will do at preschool. You could highlight some games they will play and link the games back to home. You can look at photos of the preschool and talk about some of the things that are different from home, like the toilets and playground.

Follow your child’s lead with talking, so that your child feels comfortable talking about preschool, but doesn’t hear about it too often. If your child doesn’t seem interested when you talk about it, don’t push the conversation.

Keeping things low key can be a good idea too. If you say ‘Isn’t it exciting that you’re starting preschool?’, your child might start to feel more anxious because it sounds like a big deal.

Visit the preschool before your child starts

It’s always a good idea to let you child know what to expect. Visiting the preschool in the lead up to their start will be beneficial for both you and your child. You might even negotiate with the preschool that your child does a couple of short days to get used to their new surroundings. A slow, easy transition can often be a good way to approach this new change. 

Read books about preschool

There are plenty of books out there that can help you explain to your child what preschool is all about and how their day might operate. 

Establish a good routine

Your child will feel safe when they know what to expect each day. Working out a simple daily routine can help them with a smooth transition to preschool. You could set up a routine for preschool mornings – for example, get up, have breakfast, clean teeth, get dressed, put on sunscreen, pack lunchbox and go. You could even make a chart with pictures showing the different steps in your routine.

Develop a routine for saying goodbye

Say goodbye to your child so that he or she knows you’re going, and tell them that you will pick them up at the end of the day. Say goodbye once and leave. Long drawn out goodbyes are difficult for both you and your child and can make a situation more difficult. If you need to, explain to your child that you will read them one book at preschool and then you have to leave. Again, letting them know what to expect makes them feel safe and more confident. They will soon begin to understand the predictableness of what is happening each day. 

Communicate with teachers

Let teachers know what is happening in your child’s life and if there is anything out of the ordinary that they should take into consideration. You should also let the teacher know as much about your child as possible – things like your child’s favourite books or songs, if you have special visitors staying with you, or your child’s favourite sport. 

Let your child see you and their teacher talking warmly, it will give your child confidence that you are working together.    

Share in their excitement

Your child will be that much more enthusiastic to return to preschool if you can share in their excitement and build on what they have learnt throughout the day. Celebrate all the small things with them, it will grow their confidence. 

TIPS FOR PREPARING YOUR TODDLER FOR PRESCHOOL
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN SELECTING A PRESCHOOL

WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN SELECTING A PRESCHOOL

Selecting the right preschool for your child is a decision that won’t be taken lightly. When trying to choose the right preschool, you will want to visit a number of centres, look at what they offer, meet the staff and get a feel for the centre generally.

What you should expect from a quality preschool:

  • Valuable play and learning experiences.
  • A consistent and caring relationship between the staff and children.
  • The allowance of time for exploration and new activities for children.
  • Support for social, emotional, physical and cognitive aspects of your child’s development.
  • Clear and reasonable expectations of behaviour.
  • Active involvement with families of the children.
  • Open communication about your child.
  • An environment where you feel welcome.

When you visit a preschool, here are some things to look out for:

  • Adults are talking to children in nurturing and encouraging ways. They get down on their eye-level, address them by name, listen carefully, and seek to understand. Early childhood learning is built on trusting relationships, and that means that good teachers do not yell or roll their eyes at children. Positive relationships can be hard to define, but they are easy to see.
  • When children are behaving inappropriately, teachers are focused on helping them, rather than punishing them. All preschoolers are developing social and emotional skills and self-regulation, like how to share toys and express frustration in words. Good teachers build those skills with consistent routines and tools like timers for turn-taking, language children can use when they have a conflict, and songs and games for when a child needs to be physical.
  • The classroom is fun and joyful. Play is the vehicle through which young children learn everything from vocabulary to math to self-control. That doesn’t mean classrooms should be a free-for-all. Teachers should continually provide new activities and challenges, ask thought-provoking questions, and nudge children to think deeper.
  • Children are active. They are not expected to sit for more than 15-20 minutes at a time, and they get plenty of outdoor time. They are also active contributors to the classroom; they get to choose their activities and their work covers the walls.
  • Staff are supported — and seem happy. Working with young children is a tough job, and teachers are more successful when they receive regular professional development and planning time, not to mention a livable wage and benefits like health insurance and paid time off. Don’t be afraid to ask the director about these factors and about rates of teacher turnover.

Asking questions at the preschool is the best way to get information. We suggest asking the following:

  1. How are parents kept up to date with what’s going on at the centre?
  2. Is family participation welcomed in weekly activities?
  3. What are the philosophies and values of the centre and its staff members?
  4. What are the fees?
  5. Are extended hours of care available?
  6. How will food and drink be provided?
  7. How will medication be handled and administered?
  8. Are you allowed to visit at any time?
  9. What is the ratio of qualified staff to children?
  10. What policies and standards does the centre operate to?

In addition to the questions above, ask yourself these questions as you tour the centre:

  1. Does the environment look inviting?
  2. Do the staff seem professional?
  3. Are staff vigilantly looking after the children in their care?
  4. What are the other children like?
  5. Does it smell nice?
  6. Is it a place you would come back to?

WHY SEND MY CHILD TO PRESCHOOL?

Some parents are not sure about sending their child to preschool prior to starting kindergarten. This is a very personal choice. If you’re not sure, have a read of the information below, we hope this might help you with your decision.

According to the Raising Children Network, preschool helps children:

  • get new knowledge and skills – for example, they start learning more about numbers, letters and words
  • improve their communication and social skills through playing and interacting with other children and adults
  • make new friends and develop new relationships with adults
  • develop physical skills – for example, children learn to balance on play equipment and practise fine motor skills like drawing with a pencil and cutting with scissors
  • develop problem-solving and creative thinking skills
  • develop responsibility, independence, confidence and self-worth through doing things like looking after their own belongings and spending time away from home
  • get ready for the transition to school.

Preschool is all about learning through open-ended play and structured play activities that allow children to develop at their own pace. Whether your child is finger painting, building a block castle, or singing with other kids, preschool helps your child increase her experiences, abilities and knowledge.

Preschool programs offer both indoor and outdoor learning experiences, as well as opportunities for solo and group play.

According to pregnancybirthbaby.org.au, “Research has shown that 2 years of preschool helps children to be better prepared for school, with better literacy, emotional and social skills. Sending children to preschool early may be especially important for children who need extra support – for example, if their first language isn’t English, or if they come from a disadvantaged background.

Preschool helps with young children’s overall development. It teaches them new skills that will help them learn to read, write and do mathematics. They develop better communication and social skills, such as how to play with other children, work as a group and speak to adults.

Children who go to preschool can deal better with the transition to school because they are more responsible, independent and confident.

Research also shows that children who go to preschool benefit throughout their education, even when they are at secondary school.

WHY SEND MY CHILD TO PRESCHOOL?
The long term benefits of early education

The long term benefits of early education

Families are under increasing pressure both to make ends meet and have quality time to raise their children well. The good news is that quality early learning in early childhood education and care and preschool can be the best support available to parents to help their children be able to succeed at school and in life.

According to the The Early Learning Everyone Benefits campaign, “Giving children the opportunity to attend quality early childhood education for at least two days a week helps them to understand and manage their emotions, learn social skills like how to share and take turns as well as how to focus so they are able to handle the structure of the school environment.”

Numerous studies have proven that high quality early childhood education can deliver long-term benefits that extend into adulthood. For example:

  • Children who attend a quality early childhood program in the year before school are up to 40 per cent ahead of their peers by the time they reach Year 3 in primary school (Warren & Haisken-DeNew, 2013).
  • UK research found that children who attend quality early learning had higher grades in school, were better able to manage their behaviour and had lower levels of hyperactivity. The longer they spent in early learning, and the higher the quality, the better their grades were and the more likely they were to continue academic studies (Waldren, 2017).

There is considerable evidence among those who work with child development and early education that 4-year-olds gain significantly from being in a high-quality, early learning setting.

The years from birth to age 5 are viewed as a critical period for developing the foundations for thinking, behaving, and emotional well-being. Child development experts indicate it is during these years that children develop linguistic, cognitive, social, emotional, and regulatory skills that predict their later functioning in many domains (Trawick-Smith, 2014; Woolfolk & Perry, 2012).

Early learning: Social and economic benefits

Early learning is also a powerful intervention for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. International research shows that disadvantaged children who attend quality early learning for at least two days per week are:

  • more likely to finish school
  • more likely to find higher paying jobs
  • more likely to own their own homes
  • less likely to be involved in crime as adults
  • less likely to need support with emotional and behavioural problems.

Quality early learning guided by skilled and qualified educators makes a huge difference to outcomes for children.