Explaining Preschool Philosophies: The Play Way Method
Preschool: It’s often a child’s first interaction with the world outside of family. It sets the stage for a lifetime of learning. And choosing one is often parents’ worst nightmare.
While we can’t help you navigate the tortuous admissions processes, we can help you understand the various philosophies and approaches to early childhood education, with help from Swati Popat Vats, an educator and president of the Early Childhood Association, an advocacy group that seeks to coordinate early learning stakeholders in India.
Vats says parents shouldn’t get too hung up on pure philosophy, as most schools in India use hybrid models and are unlikely to adhere rigidly to only one way of teaching. Still, there is a lot of variation between preschools, and appreciating the differences will help you choose the right school for your child’s personality and your family’s values.
First up, we break down what it means when a school claims to be play-based.
The Play Way Method
The Play Way method is driven by the guiding principal that children learn best through free play. The goal is to organically instill in children foundational understanding of concepts upon which academic skills can later be built — for instance, your child might absorb the concept of 2 as a number and amount through a playful activity, but will not be drilled in memorising that 2 + 2 = 4.
Curricula focus on unstructured hands-on activities that allow for freedom of expression and group story time. An example of this could be a month-long unit to teach children about birds during which children: listen to stories about birds, make bird-themed art projects, learn about the colours of different birds, or even go outdoors to look at birds in nature.
No specific certification exists for the Play Way method, which is more of a guiding principal than a doctrine. Teachers qualified through the Nursery Teachers Training (NTT) program, the online ECCE teacher training programs of the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), or the National Institute of Open Schooling’s one-year certificate course are trained in teaching through play.
Play Way method classrooms are generally devoid of blackboard, books, and worksheets. Instead, puppets, toys, and arts and crafts materials facilitate learning.
Early education experts widely agree that the Play Way method is the most developmentally appropriate educational approach for preschool-aged children. Assessments are based on teachers’ observation of aptitude, so there are typically no marks or grades and no competition.
Also, the fluidity of a play-based approach allows teachers to incorporate other, supplementary teaching methods. In other words, it’s not a dogmatic approach to learning.
Play Way lacks a formal philosophy, and many schools that claim to be play-based may have little in common beyond the words. This can leave parents in the dark as to what their child does all day.
And while the flexibility of the approach allows teachers freedom to individualise learning, it also allows some schools to assess performance in games, which runs counter to the idea of free play.
You’re unlikely to find a true play-based school in India, Vats says. Some formal instruction is included in most play-based curricula here, she says, due to increased pressure from parents who want to see their children learning tangible skills that will help them in the highly structured environment of primary school.
“In a purely play based school, it has to be left to the child to write the letter A in whatever format he wants to, on a slate or with paints,” Vats says. “But then the child will go to Standard 1 where he will be ridiculed if he doesn’t know how to write between those red and blue lines.”