Children grow through play-based learning

PLAY is not a waste of time. It is, in fact, how children learn. A World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education underscored the benefits of play.

Scientists have commented on the benefits of play. The neural pathways in children's brains are influenced through exploration, thinking skills, problem solving and language expression that occur during play. In fact, the right to play has a place in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

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According to The Play Video produced by The Early Childhood Education program from Lethbridge Community College in Alberta, the actual definition is not as important as the presence of certain qualities that characterize play.

Elements of play include:

. The play is voluntary and intrinsically motivated

. It is freely chosen

. The child controls the activities

. It is pleasurable, spontaneous and enjoyable

What does this mean? It simply means that children learn best when they are given the opportunity to manipulate, handle and control their play environment. So instead of colouring between the lines, they can colour wherever they wish on the page and if a pink rabbit with three heads seems appropriate, let them go for it. They can build what they wish with their blocks or decide that their toy dump truck is an ambulance.

When we talk about our kids learning, we then think about the formalized process and in many of our minds that starts with preschool.

Believe it or not, this the time of year to be considering preschool. And as you can imagine, I would recommend that you take a hard look at a preschool that promotes learning through play.

The Parent Participation Preschools are founded on the principle of learning through play. Their well-crafted programs provide both free play and directed play, activities to foster creativity, socialization, critical thinking and problem solving skills.

In the interest of full disclosure I want to say that I am the Parent Education Advisor to the Council of Parent Participation Preschools.

I am a great fan of parent participation preschools (cpppreschools.bc.ca). When you choose a PPP you are joining an organization that has been operating in British Columbia for over 60 years. Parents have the opportunity of having a say in the administration of the school, of being with their child at preschool for a half-day once or twice a month and of attending monthly meetings with other parents which include free parenting education along with a brief business meeting.

Research shows that parent involvement is a major factor in child success. In my experience parents who start participating with their children at the preschool or daycare level continue to do so through elementary and high school.

The children are engaged in a quality program with a qualified teacher. Teachers who choose to teach in a parent participation school bring an appreciation for the role of parents in the school situation.

They are not only committed to quality early childhood education, they are committed to partnering with parents to make the experience for all parties the best it can be.

Your involvement in the school will take into account your schedule and abilities.

You'll meet other parents who share many of your values about the importance of quality parenting, learn more about child-raising and work with like-minded people toward joint goals.

While the schools are great for the kids, don't underestimate the value for yourself. Because of your personal involvement and connection with the school, you will benefit as well. Parents today are more isolated from each other than ever before. It's difficult to make friends, to find support and connect with other parents who share your parenting values. We still enjoy close friendships with couples we met during our childrens' PPP days.

Is that to say that other preschools have no value? Of course not. You may, for a variety of reasons, decide that another model is best for you and your child.

Whatever your choice, what are the considerations when sending your preschooler off to a program?

Are they ready? Do they like to spend some time with other children? Can they handle simple structure? Some schools will also want them to be toilet trained.

Visit the school and observe the program. Trust your instincts. Does this feel right for you and your child? How does the teacher interact with the kids? Are the children happy, busy and engaged?

Does the program offer a variety of experiences including large muscle play, arts and crafts, free play and stories? Are parents welcome to drop in?

Talk to other parents who have their children in the school. Find out what they like best and if that fits with your wishes for your child, go for it.

Preschool is a great experience for your children. Do your homework, make the right choice and watch your child grow and develop.

Kathy Lynn is a professional speaker and author. To read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at parentingtoday.ca.

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