This is a frequently asked question. Many see these as two opposing philosophies. Academic usually is interpreted to mean teaching the alphabet and numbers through means "pushed down" from older grades, such as directed lessons and/or worksheets. Developmental means meeting children where they are, taking into consideration age, experience, interests and abilities, and helping each child reach challenging and achievable goals that contribute to his/her continuing development and learning.
However, let's define academics in the early childhood setting as foundational skills and knowledge in literacy, mathematics, science, etc., as well as, problem solving and critical thinking skills. If these areas are implemented in ways that are appropriate to children's modes of learning, then academics and developmental are not mutually exclusive.
For example, we foster literate explorations and encourage natural curiosities of print. Learning that individual squiqqles on paper are words and that those printed words have meaning or that a story has a beginning, middle, and ending are vital literacy skills that are incorporated into our curriculum at the developmentally appropriate time. Exposure to the ABCs through natural interest ("What letters are in my name?"), games, songs, and other activities occurs at different times in a young child's development and is another example of integrating academics into a developmental curriculum.
Play is one powerful way that children seek meaning of their world. Research tells us that children reap great benefits from play because they are using language, solving problems, making choices, taking turns, making friends, regulating emotions/behavior, and developing and practicing new skills. Imaginative play and creativity are particularly important for children to develop problem-solving skills and to develop into adults who have the ability to innovate in business, government, or their own lives. Albert Einstein once said, "You can't solve a problem with the same the same thinking that created the problem."
We must remember that if a child's natural inquisitiveness and sense of wonder are respected and nurtured in early childhood, he/she will develop a lifelong interest in learning. In our Early Childhood Education Center, we design the environment and experiences to fit the characteristics of the children. We are patient, realizing that development is a process that cannot be rushed. Do YOU know or have a small child who you want to help develop into a lifelong learner? Come to STS's ECEC and see for yourself!
Years of research on children's learning and development document the many benefits of play for children's intellectual, social, emotional, physical and language development. Children at play are actively involved in creating themes, exploring and establishing environments, solving problems and developing shared understandings.
Children play in many ways. They play independently, sometimes near each other but with each child engrossed in his own activity. They engage in what is called "parallel play," perhaps using each others' toys or even talking, but not coordinating their play. They also play cooperatively, organizing roles and scenarios for group play. As they get older, children are capable of more cooperative, coordinated play. But all kinds of play are valuable.
As kids play with each other, they learn to see other children's points of view and begin to become more empathetic and caring. They come to understand customs and rules in their own culture and to appreciate those of others. They learn to use language in new ways to describe their play and to interact with others. And in play, children develop their muscles and coordination.
Adults support children's play by providing space, opportunity, and materials. We set up areas where kids can play without fear of damaging furniture or injuring themselves. WE make sure that they have the time to choose and to become engaged in their own play activities. And when we provide them with simple, interesting materials – no newfangled, expensive gadgets required – kids take it from there.
Play is fun. But it also is serious business that pays big dividends to its eager, young investors.