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Play Dough and Mud Pies: Is Your Child Really Learning in Preschool?

Step into your child's preschool classroom, and you are likely to encounter what appears to be slightly controlled chaos. At one table, a group of children may be happily smearing paint across paper, while another group of children is pretending to bake a cake in the home center. At first glance, this is all very cute. However, you may also find yourself questioning whether or not your child is learning anything in this type of environment. While your concerns are valid, a deeper look at the underlying concepts involved with play-based learning can help you identify exactly what skills are being taught and understand how you can check your child's progress.

Understand the Play Dough Effect

From building with blocks to splashing at the water table, there are many playful activities your child's teacher uses to teach important preschool concepts. Out of all of these activities, one of the best examples for learning possibilities is play dough. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, play dough provides an opportunity for children to learn 32 different skills that include mathematics, literacy, and language development. As your child squishes the dough, they are building fine motor skills that will help them hold a pencil to write, and observing the changes as they mix colors provides an early opportunity for scientific experimentation. Using this understanding, take a deeper look at the activities your child enjoys at school, and you will begin to notice the important skills being taught, such as measurement and spatial awareness in the block center.

Observe Teacher Interaction

While it may look like child's play in the classroom, each activity should be strategically planned by the teacher to target the skills your child needs to develop. According to Earlychildhood NEWS, your child's teacher should also be actively involved in providing the support children need to take their play to a higher level of thinking. Spend some time observing in the classroom, even if it means arriving a few minutes early for pick-up or staying a little longer during the morning drop-off. Watch to see if the teacher encourages language development and reasoning by asking open-ended questions as the children play. You should also observe the teacher adding new elements to a child-led activity that will foster new skills, such as placing crayons and paper to make road signs as the children build a city with blocks.

Ask About Assessments

An important component of every early childhood education program is assessing the children's developing skills. If you are unsure what your child is learning, then a conference with your child's teacher can clarify how they use assessments to individualize their lessons. Typically, teachers use a variety of strategies to assess development that may include formal assessments, classroom observations, and collecting children's work to show progress over time. Many of these methods can show you how your child's play has developed since they began the program. For example, a self-portrait done on the first day may have been mere scribbles, while a mid-year picture shows your child beginning to draw basic shapes.

Every child learns at their own pace, yet play-based learning offers a way for teachers to engage children at multiple skill levels to reach the next stage of development. Keep this in mind as you observe your child's classroom, and you will begin to notice the value of the enriching activities your child is exposed to in a quality child care environment. For further information about early childhood education, contact a representative from an establishment like McLean Children's Academy.