In Chap 1 the authors stress the importance of talking with your child that, and I quote,"exchanges with our children promote thier intellectual skills...and asking children to describer their day helps them to understand and express thier experience which in turn, helps them think, learn and increase their vocabularies." We understand, agree and accept this as an important part of childrearing, yet as a result from the Hart and Risley study we know children from welfare homes , at the age of 3, have less than a third of the vocabulary than children from professionakl homes. Thus, the rationale for programs , such as Headstart. So, my dilemma in reading this book, is although I agree with the authors, I know that a lot of our children need to be in school at a young age. Our challenge is to find the right balance between allowing them the time they need for natuarl exploration and dicovery while helping them develop the language acquisition skills too many of them lack.

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It's very clear that the link between supportive involved parenting and academic success is huge!!!! That makes me feel good as a parent but challenged as an educator. How can we change or make an impact on the environmental factors in our student population?? I found it interesting that the book stated in 1981 40% of time was play,in 1997 25% is spent playing and currently some schools in America have eliminated recess all together. Why has play become a four letter word? Play is an invaluable part of the learning process in early childhood. It is so important for social development,problem solving sharing ect.
It is interesting that somehow it is either play or academics….the pendulum swings back and forth. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. I believe that play for children is academic, meaning that play (structured properly) provides students an education. I also believe that for children academics are play, meaning letter games and songs, word play, number games, writing, reading, and science discovery are play to children. The best learning situations at any age have the participant so involved, motivated, and engaged that they don't even realize how much they are learning.
The authors say, "Reading used to be introduced in the first grade". I don't know about these authors but I know many of us introduced reading to our babies as soon as they came home from the hospital. How many of us began reading to our children before they could focus on the pictures. Babies like to be read to - they like the sound of their mother and father's voices. It is soothing to cuddle up and listen to a story. Reading should be introduced before preschool. Children love books. They like to be read to, they like to play with sounds, they like to pretend they are reading.
As I read chapter one, the thing that I kept thinking about was our at-risk children. The authors are concerned with over scheduling and pushing our children to adulthood. But what about the children that don't get have a home environment rich with language? What about the child that does not have a safe world to explore? What if they don't have family members ready when teaching opportunities arise?
I guess I worry less about the “child in the race to improve” than I do about the child left out of the race.
I have been hooked on this book since the introduction...when on the last page it states in caps. PLAY=LEARNING. I feel this strongly on a visceral level. After teaching Kindergarten for 20 years I have been hanging onto the pendulum as it has swung back and forth. I like change and think change can be a good thing.. it should NOT be considered a "four...oops.. i mean five letter word" :-) any more than play should be considered a "four letter word". But you dont throw the baby out with the bath water. Play is a sacred part of the early childhood experience. The learning that takes place during choice time is replaceable.I agree with Jen that it doesn't have to be one or the other, academics or play... but more often than not... play is threatened... "oh...they're just playing... as if they arent learning. "

When I observe the learning that takes place as my students explore blocks and trains during choice centers I am sometimes in awe. They start with learning to link the train tracks together using imaginative play with the trains. Then each year... someone decides to elevate the train track with small blocks. They choose a block and try to make it hold up the track.. it falls... they try again , it falls and then and suddenly EUREKA it works!! Now the cats out of the bag and they begin to elevate the whole track and then make the track rise up, up, up and then dip.. each time learning to estimate the correct size of blocks to use... successful after multiple and repeated attempts. The math... the physics... the language used to achieve this feat cannot be parralled. I couldnt teach it...On the bottom of pg 7 it states..." as an educator I know that blocks are truly the building blocks of literacy, math and other forms of learning." Oh how I agree...

I too worry about the child/children who dont have rich home lives.. who sit in front of the TV..who dont have parents read to them... who have zero background knowledge and vocabulary when they enter my classroom.. who dont have a chance to play with blocks..trains..books.. I dont think we can't change that altogether (although a good teacher - parent connection can inspire parents to try new things when they know you are on their side.. supporting them and working together in a positive way!) These children from deprived backgrounds need the time even more than others...to explore, be creative, play with blocks,learn about letters, be read to, talked to, put on puppet shows, paint, explore themes in depth,learn to get along with others, work out problems, etc... It's all learning.. On pg 9 it states "most child experts agree that time in preschool and Kindergarten is better spent on experiental play and building relationships" All children need this, especially those that are disadvantaged!

"When we rush learning, we often try to teach things that make little sense to the child and that would be better learned at a later age" (pg32) The developmental approach, encourages us to teach "their way". There are so many wonderful programs out there it can sometimes be overwhelming. Just as this book cautions the parents not to overschedule, I feel we as educators need to pick and choose thoughtfully and carefully also and make sure not to stress and overschedule the children . Even though we would love to do it all!!! :-) Most European countries such as Finland with their high literacy rates subscribe to this mentality ...that you should not push or hurry a child. I am very thankful that PLAY is appreciated in our district, that our children are allowed to learn and be children ...their way. We need to contimue to work on finding the right balance... the balance between academics and play.. It does not need to be one or the other.
oops..typo first paragraph...should read that choice time is irreplaceable!!
I agree that play is very important in early childhood. In my class, I have 3 ESL students. During Choice Centers I see them gain so much language by listening to and trying to converse with their peers. On page 9 the author states "time in prek and k is better spent on experiential play and building relationships". I see Jane quoted this as well and I agree that all children need this.

As far as our at risk students, I feel WE need to help build their background knowledge. This might mean going deeper into a theme or topic and not just skimming over it. If we are teaching letter "Ff", for example, and reading stories on frogs, it would be great if we had more time to do hands on projects that would build background knowledge. Unfortunately, it's an issue of time. We do need to find the right balance in our day to fit all of these important things in.
I was just reading chp 2 and something struck me about what they were saying about brain developement and the "pruning process". On page 25 they state that each time synapses fire, they become more sturdier and more resiliant. Those that are used often enough tend to survive. In this way, a child's experiences in the first years of life do affect the brain's permanent circuity. So, how many of our children who come from improvished homes, also come from chaotic homes. These are the children that benefit the most from early childhood education because their brains are not being "pruned" to recognize order, routine and language rich experiences. They need and thrive in a classroom which is structured, stable and offers them many opportunites to develop thier oral language skills
I think we lose sight sometimes of how far we have come as educators. I feel the audience for this book is primarily parents. As professionals we understand the word "play" means more than allowing the children free time. I think Jane described it beautifully when she spoke about the importance of block playing. She said she couldn't teach the science, mathematics, language skills they are using. Yet she does recognize the learning that is taking place. And, it is through teacher preparation, knowledge and guidance she can facililtate the scaffolding necessry to take students to another level.
I too was just reading chapter 2. On page 33 the authors state, "Thankfully, millions of years of evolution have taken care of brain development for us, and we are unlikely to change the course of development in a single generation." I disagree with this statement. Many doctors and researchers have come to the conclusion that the brain is shaped by genetics and environment (50 -50). Therefore, we can change the course of development in a single generation. Don't believe it, check out the studies of children in Romanian orphanages. Furthermore, tons of studies have shown the positive effects of preschool on a child's development. Those children that lack language rich environments have significantly lower vocabulary when they enter school. Providing all children with language experiences can change the course of their brain development.
Check out this talk about creativity and play.... http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/392
I feel that part of our role as preschool teachers is to provide our students that come from homes that lack structure and opportunities for language development just that - structure and a chance to develop their vocabulary and language skills. And so much of this takes place during Play - as Jane said, the interactions betweeen children and teachers can't be taught, they just happen, like it does in the homes of the children in our classes who are not at risk. I too started reading, talking, and singing with my daughters practically from the moment they were born, and I find myself carrying on the same types of conversations with my students as I did with them when they were preschoolers, or even younger, particulary with the at-risk students. It seems to me that this very natural informal conversation is what so many of them need and are not getting - and play/choice time is the perfect opportunity to do this. Of course, they are also learning by interacting with their peers, but having the chance to just talk with an adult and discuss what they are doing is invaluable.
I have really enjoyed reading the first two chapters of this book. As I read I found myself recalling my own childhood and comparing that with what my students are experiencing in their diverse situations. I agree with Susan that the primary audience for this book is parents. I think this book would really open some parents’ eyes and make them better parents of young children. With busy work schedules and family responsibilities parents often forget how easy and important it is to just talk to their children. By sending home weekly notices that include activities I feel that we provide great opportunities for parents to converse with their children. Also I think some parents really downplay the importance of “play” in early education and this book shows how children can learn through play.

On page twelve the author discusses “academic” preschools versus traditional preschools. I feel that in our preschool classrooms we have created a balance between the two. We provide our students with time to play, explore things in their environment, and provide meaningful instruction.
Although I am not reading this book right now, the author's work helps form the basis of one whole chapter of the book some of you will be reading, The Trouble with Boys. The name of the chapter is "The Preschool Blues." The thesis is that the move away from play-centered preschools to academic ones is more detrimental to boys than to girls. The author objects to the whole concept of jump-starting childhood (reference to the popular JumpStart software). She is concerned that with the cultural/social shift of more moms in the workplace and broader concerns about safety, the whole concept of free play has ended. Do you remember when our moms didn't arrange play dates, but we just wandered around the neighborhood? It's sad to me that so much of spontaneous, unstructured play has gone by the wayside. Wasn't it Piaget who said that play is a child's work?
What Lisa said is so interesting to me. In the book Whatever It Takes, Canada talks about middle class parents and how they investigate, talk to each other about child rearing and set up play dates for thier children Canada felt that was one of the major differences between middle class and impoverished parents. That for many parents just surviving day to day was enough on thier plates. They either don't understand the importance or don't have the emotional strength to help their son or daughter be developmentally exposed to a variety of experiences. Thus, he created Baby College so he could get poor children at an early age. Interestingly, he said impoverished children were more independent. That left to thier own devices they understood how to organize a team and that natural leadership skills emerged. That their play was very similiar to how a lot of us were brought up- go play kick the can for hours- vs. structured activiites which many of our children are accustomed to. Furthermore, he felt because middle class children experienced organzied sports,dance, music lessons etc, that these experiences helped them in later life to navigate the world of adults. .
As we become more sophisticated in our knowledge base, we are able to judge how much free play vs structured play we want to offer to our own children. The issue isn't about us, the issue is the 52% of our kids who don't have knowledgable parents. These are the kids that do better with us in a structured play enviornment.

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