Over recent years, there has been a significant swing of the educational pendulum in the direction of play-based learning for kindergarten and early elementary school children. Much research and publication effort has also been dedicated to extolling the virtues of play-based education, all for very good reason! It is well-known that some of life’s best lessons are learned through play, and in fact, much of the learning that is characteristic of Maria Montessori’s famous model is founded upon activities rooted in play. The question for us at RMS, and for you as parents is: Will play-based learning alone be enough? Our answer is: Perhaps not.
In her article “Does play-based kindergarten help children academically?” http://www.research.utoronto.ca/does-play-based-kindergarten-help-children-academically/ author Jenny Hall notes the work of OISE professor Angela Pyle while observing the play-literacy interface in classrooms. As in the RMS “Math Day”, Pyle observes children setting up a bank in their classroom, following the teacher having taught the group directly about money. With the fundamentals having been provided through teacher-directed instruction, the students are then enthused to move forward on their own with extension activities, and the teacher must have the good sense to step back and switch into a “facilitator and provider”, rather than a “teacher and director” mode.
Like many of us who spend a good deal of time thinking about educational efficacy, Pyle is interested in the balance between “developmentally-appropriate practices like play-based learning, and the academic learning that we are expecting from young children”. I am always impressed when I visit our youngest classrooms, by how enthusiastically our children approach structured, teacher-led activities such as calendar, weather, and phonics classes. It is also rewarding to witness early reading stages and emerging numeracy, typically resulting from direct instruction. This does not, however, diminish the vital importance of lessons learned through play, especially as can be seen when original ideas and activities are encouraged, and concepts are reinforced by imaginative and creative play, where the teachers’ role is focused upon retaining safety and an atmosphere of mutual respect.
In some ways, notes Pyle, teachers are in a bind. “We know that play is good for things like self-regulation…and learning to compromise and negotiate, but on the other hand, for play to work for academic learning, teachers may have to be more involved in guiding it.”
At RMS, we embrace the balance. All of our students need to be equipped with the fundamental skills and knowledge for ongoing academic success, and also with the ability to naturally and independently interact with others in their “circle”. Development of all of these attributes depends upon the knowledge and flexibility of the RMS teachers and leaders to understand when each model, or something in between, is appropriate, and having the courage to “Nurture Tomorrow’s Achievers” in the way that is best suited to their present and future needs.