Questioning the Importance of Playschool

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Oct 15, 2014

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One of the biggest sources of anxiety for parents is the decision to send a one and a half year old to playschool in the care of strangers.

Some parents ask, “Shouldn’t I just wait till she’s a little older? But if I do, will a kindergarten accept my child?” or the more curious ones, “Is preschool education overrated?”

Many practitioners in the preschool space will explain that children under the age of two often play alongside those in their peer group rather than with each other. They enjoy independent play, often ignore those who are in their peer group, and are in fact more likely to respond to adults than children their age.

Does it make sense to send the child off five days a week for a couple of hours a day just to play alongside each other? Perhaps a series of playdates would be a better way to ease children into the process of education?

From my experience as an educator and Trustee at Children’s Nook Group of Pre-Schools, exposure ‎in the infant years forms a critical mass for the years to come, similar to how singing and reading to the baby in the womb has benefits that are only later seen.

“Academic” development in preschools is creating a platform for the child to explore with different types of play – role play, blocks, play doh, sand and water, free play and art, music, dance and drama, literature through stories, manipulatives that work with the fine and gross motor skills, and memories to register new words and situations.

When developed in a natural, stress-free, fun-filled, and creative way, the child enjoys the exposure and remains curious for more. The stimulation that a live story, with props and changes in tone, provides for a child is far greater than an iPad app for a simple reason: it is interactive. The greatest contribution that a preschool education makes to the childhood years is fostering a joy for learning. In preschool, thoughts are exchanged, feelings expressed, cause and effect explained – and all this done in a non-structured environment.

Social development evolves and each child develops differently. ‎But the real impact of the preschool years is the academic foundation that educators define as “pre” skills.

As an educator, I believe that preschool education isn’t overrated, but as a mother, I can certainly relate to those who are still left wondering.

My own experience as a mother of a 9-year-old is illustrative. My son is inquisitive, because from the time he was in playschool, the curriculum allowed him to explore and demanded that he keep exploring. His expressive ways tell me that the early years gave him that necessary memory for words and pronunciation that come easily to him. His love for numbers stems from the sheer variety of hands-on activities that playschool exposed him to, and his fascination for science can be traced back to his playschool’s “try and learn” approach.

And then I wonder, if he didn’t go to a playschool, would he never have learnt those same skills?

While I can never be completely sure that those interactive play experiences would be substantially different than, say, some of the new technology that supports early learning, the old-fashioned me believes that interaction and exposure remains richer when it connects us as individuals and children as students.

 

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Written By Fatema Agarkar

Fatema Agarkar is an educationist and the co-founder of JBCN Education. After graduating from the University of Birmingham (Central England), she worked in a variety of roles as a banker, with the Times of India, and a Swiss executive search firm. She has received awards for her outstanding contribution to education, and has plans to set up foster care centres across India for less fortunate and physically disabled children.

See all articles by Fatema

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