Like many other American parents, I had an obsession: academic success for my child. My wake-up call was when the preschool teacher came up to me and said, “Your daughter is okay academically. But she’s failing in basic social skills like sharing and taking turns.” Not only that, but my daughter was also having trouble controlling her emotions, having sensory and anxiety issues, and had trouble simply playing by herself!
[Some excerpts of text by pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom (with her permission) because we want your children to be confident, capable and strong.]
I still recall the days of preschool for my oldest daughter. I put her in a preschool that was academic in nature – the focus on pre-reading, writing, and math skills. My friends and I did “enrichment classes” with our kids to practice sorting, coloring, counting, numbers, letters, and yes….even to practice sitting! We thought this would help prepare them for kindergarten.
Epidemic Of Sensory Issues At Young Age
“Kids are just different,” she started to say. When I asked her to clarify, she said, “They are more easily frustrated – often crying at the drop of a hat.” She had also observed that children were frequently falling out of their seats “at least three times a day,” less attentive, and running into each other and even the walls. “It is so strange. You never saw these issues in the past.”
Preschool Teachers Pressured To Leave Play-Based Learning
Research continues to point out that preschool age children learn skills best through meaningful play experiences. Studies show that children need “rough and tumble” outdoor play in order to develop their sensory, motor, and executive functions.
Here’s some cool evidence: The Lost Art Of Roughhousing: Why Roughhousing Makes Kids Awesome!
Yet many preschool classes are leaving play-based learning to become more academic in nature. A preschool teacher recently wrote to me: “I feel pressure to push them at this young age. On top of that, teachers are pressured to document and justify what they do, so the relaxed playful environment is compromised. We continue to do the best we can for the kids’ sake, while trying to fit into the ever-growing restraints we must work within.”
Today it is rare to find children climbing trees, rolling down hills or swinging on ropes just for fun. We’ve taken away merry-go-rounds, shortened the length of swings, and removed teeter-totters for ‘safety’s sake’. Children have fewer opportunities for unstructured outdoor play than ever before.
Preschool Years – Critical Neurodevelopmental Period
If children are not given enough natural movement and play experiences, they are more likely to be clumsy, have difficulty paying attention, trouble controlling their emotions, utilize poor problem-solving methods, and demonstrate difficulties with social interactions. We are consistently seeing sensory, motor, and cognitive issues pop up more and more in later childhood, partly because of inadequate opportunities to move and play at an early age.
We now know that roughhousing and friendly horseplay with dad when kids are very little “makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, lovable and likable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful.” In their book The Art of Roughhousing, authors DeBenedet and Cohen show benefits and the research behind it. In short, roughhousing makes your kid awesome.
It is before the age of 7 years – ages traditionally known as “pre-academic” – when children desperately need to have a multitude of whole-body sensory experiences on a daily basis in order to develop foundational life skills and strong bodies and minds. This is best done outside where the senses are fully ignited and young bodies are challenged by the uneven and unpredictable, ever-changing terrain.
If you’ve read The Last Child in the Woods, you’re familiar with the term “nature-deficit disorder.” In our technologically savvy generation, kids just aren’t getting enough time to play outside, and that has now been linked to attention disorders, depression (yes, in children), and obesity.
Children who play outside laugh more, which means they’re happy! It also means their blood pressure and stress levels are lower.
Skills That Shouldn’t Have to Be Taught
“I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are,” reported a fourth-grader. Never before in history have kids been so plugged in – and so out of touch with the natural world.
Later when issues arise in elementary school, we make kids practice special breathing techniques, coping skills, run social skill groups, and utilize special exercises in an attempt to “teach” children how to be still and to improve focus.
These skills shouldn’t have to be taught! They should develop at a young age in the most natural sense – through meaningful, interactive play experiences.
If children were given ample opportunities every day, there would be no need for specialized exercises or ‘meditation’ techniques for the youngest of our people. They would simply develop these skills through play, no preschool needed. That’s it.
Play is: freedom, imagination, sharing, cooperating, creating, fresh air, nature, friendships, conversing, pretending, gross motor, fine motor, fun.
Let the adult-directed learning experiences come later.
Thanks for reading!