Why Are the Children Playing?

by Sandra W. Newnan, Early Childhood Instructor, Central Piedmont Community College

Let’s take an imaginary trip to a kindergarten classroom. Heather and Calvin are in the Pretend Corner setting the table and cooking supper. Christian and Kenzie are in the Manipulative Area putting puzzles together. Jason and Michelle are building in the Block Area. Casey and Andrea are in the Book Center looking at books and talking together. Toshia and Daudi are in the Writing Center drawing with crayons. In the Art Area Jennifer and Matthew are cutting and pasting. Terrainio is painting a picture at the easel. Lorenzo is washing dishes at the sink. There is so much for preschoolers to learn. Why are the children playing?

Current trends toward competency based education and back to the basics result in pressure on younger and younger children to begin learning their ABC’s, writing their names, and learning to count. Among the hardest questions preschool teachers must answer are: Why are the children playing? When are you going to start teaching them something? Early childhood educators must have their objectives in mind and state them clearly to avert pressure from parents, administrators, or other teachers to teach the 3 R’s to preschoolers. In this paper, we will discuss the preschool curriculum and explain how it lays the essential foundation for the 3 R’s–reading, writing and arithmetic.

Why Are The Children Playing?

To Develop Essential Reading Skills

Educators know that a child must master certain skills before he or she is ready to read. The child must be able to tell the difference among objects and shapes–he must have visual discrimination. He must establish left to right progression–called tracking. He must have a sufficient vocabulary so that written words will have meaning to him. He must be skilled in auditory discrimination so he can hear the differences among sounds and words. He must understand the relationship among speaking, w:iting and reading.. He should have knowledge about books and  how to use them. She should understand the storyline (that stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end). She should have an attention span that allows her to concentrate on what she is doing. She should have a good self-concept and a desire to ,read. How does the preschool curriculum provide for mastery of these essential reading skills?

Reading Skills

Preschool Activities to Develop Mastery

Visual discrimination Learning colors, learning shapes, looking at pictures, sorting objects, working puzzles, copying bead patterns
Tracking Looking at books from the front to the back, seeing children’s names  written in the left hand comer of their papers, watching and listening as flannel board stories are told with left to right progression.
Vocabulary Listening as the teacher talks about activities (The jello dissolved when we put in the hot water.); reading picture books with the teacher; hearing books read; talking with visitors in the classroom; going on field trips.

Outside is the most natural place to work on large muscle development. but development of the large muscles can also occur inside. Some of the activities provided inside are: (1) Building with blocks; (2) Wiping off tables; (3) Painting; and (4) Creative movement.

How does the preschool curriculum provide for mastery of the six essential pre-handwriting skills?

Handwriting Skills

Preschool Activities to Develop Mastery

Small muscle development (necessary in order to manipulate a pencil) Playing with Legos, bristle blocks, puzzles, tinker toys, small cars, small blocks, play dough; screwing lids on jars; painting; coloring; drawing; tearing paper; pasting.
Eye-hand coordination (necessary in order to be able to do what the eye and brain select to be done) Building with Legos; balancing with blocks; stringing beads; sewing cards; weaving; pouring water, beans, and sand; developing self-help skills; pasting; fingerpainting; fingerplays
Holding a tool (necessary in order to be able to manipulate a writing tool—felt tip marker is easiest writing tool for children Using sponges, straws, basters, funnels, and squeeze bottles at a water table; pails, shovels, sifters in the sand area; hoes, rakes, and watering cans in the garden; spoons, egg beaters, and spatulas in the cooking center; paint brushes, chalk, crayons, pencils in the art center
Basic strokes (circles, squares, lines that connect to form people, houses, and letters) Painting; drawing; stirring and sand play; water play; fingerpainting
Letter Perception (necessary to be able to recognize the Alphabet) Completing puzzles, reading pictures, playing classification games; following bead patterns; watching the teacher write his name on paper; dictating experience stories as the teacher writes
Orientation to printed word Making books, greeting cards, letters, signs (the adult does the writing and the child reads)

To Develop Essential Math Skills

Pre-math skills must be acquired before children are expected to do pencil and paper arithmetic. How does the preschool curriculum provide for mastery of essential math skills?

Math Skills

Preschool Activities to Develop Mastery

Seriation (Putting things in order) Playing with blocks and balls of different size; hearing the story of The Three Bears and The Three Billy Goats Gruff
Classification Helping teacher arrange a room so that the books are in the books center, blocks are in the blocks center; keeping all toys that are alike in the same container; sorting objects according to size, shape, and color; putting objects that are alike together
One to one correspondence Setting the table for snack or lunch; each child gets a napkin, one spoon, one fork, and so on
Understanding of sets Keeping crayons in the crayon box, pencils in the pencil can, cars in the garage
Cardinal numbers Counting blocks, counting children, jumps, pockets, colors and so on
Ordinal numbers Using number in conversation: This is the second day it has rained; learning fingerplays and songs that useordinal numbers
Measurement Measuring and weighing children and other things in the classroom; using the balance scale; cooking
Fractions Cooking experiences; pouring a ½ cup of juice; hearing teacher comment You have eaten half of your sandwich
Pre-number concepts (next to, around, between. heavier, lighter, tall, taller) Listening; talking while playing in the block area; in the sand area, at the water table, on the playground; following musical directions
Concept of mass and form
(necessary for understanding Mathematics)
Working with 3 dimensional media such as clay and play dough

To Develop Other Academic Skills

The preceding part of this paper describes how math, reading and writing are taught in the preschool curriculum. But these are certainly not all the subjects that are taught in the classroom. Physics is taught when children play bowling, throw a ball in the air, try to blow objects off the table. Zoology is taught when children find a spider, watch it move, and count its legs. Social Studies is taught when the children learn about holidays and have visits from community helpers. Children learn best through doing and being involved in their learning. Piaget says young children learn about the world through

acting on objects and by observing the objects’ reaction. Children need an opportunity to communicate with others what they observe. This is the kind of responsive environment provided in a good preschool program.

To Develop Social and Emotional Skills

But are the academic subjects all we want our children to learn? No, we also want children who can think for themselves, solve problems, create, get along with others, express themselves, act responsibly, behave independently, demonstrate self-discipline, show curiosity, display an eagerness to learn, and feel good about themselves. These social and emotional skills are also developed in a comprehensive preschool program.


Preschool Activities to Develop Mastery

Decision making Choosing centers to work in; colors to place on art paper, and toys to play with
Problem solving Working with puzzles, building with blocks, and interacting with other children
Creativity Completing art experiences that have no right or wrong; constructing with toys such as Legos; cooking creatively; creative movement
Getting along with others Playing with other children
Self-expression Completing open-ended art activities; having freedom to express thoughts and a constructive outlet for feelings (pounding clay instead of hitting, role play, dramatic play)
Responsibility Helping in the classroom, taking care of plants or pets, being responsible for actions
Independence Learning self-help skills, pouring milk, serving food and running errands
Self-discipline Experiencing limits set by the teacher and logical consequences of personal behavior
Curiosity and eagerness to learn Experiencing discovery learning; answering questions such as: I wonder what would happen if…?
Good self-concept Experiencing challenging tasks which can be successfully accomplished; experiencing success at open-ended art activities; receiving positive reinforcement from the teacher

The preschool curriculum must provide for the development of the physical, cognitive, social and emotional aspects. Preschool teachers must be concerned about laying the foundation for caring, responsible, and successful adults. But these goals should not be the goals of the preschool program exclusively. Instead, they should be the goals of schools everywhere; for all age groups.

Copyright c/1981 by Sandra W. Newnan. This material may not be copied in any form without expressed permission from the author.