A question I frequently receive when describing my In-Home Preschool is "What is play based?" Sometimes I wonder if people have an image in their head of children running amok in my home with several upturned toy boxes around the different rooms. Some gig I've got eh? "Play-based preschool" is really just code for playing all day and I don't actually have to plan or prepare anything.
No, that's actually not right. Play-based teaching is not an original idea of mine and it does go a bit deeper than children simply running amok.
Researchers worldwide have discovered that play is the most effective way children learn. When a child finds something interesting to them, they will give it their attention. We can tell a child "bus starts with b" or "1+1 = 2" until we are quite literally blue in the face but if he isn't interested in numbers or buses, he is simply not going to retain that information. However, if we have a child who loves dinosaurs, we can add figures of dinosaurs and tell him that brontosaurus starts with the letter b and have much better success at retention of the same concepts.
Dr. Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College, has said the following;
"Those mammals with the largest brains and with the most to learn, are the ones we find playing the most. Given that, it should be no surprise at all that human children when they are free to do so, play far more than the young of any mammals. So from a biological/evolutionary perspective, play is nature's means of ensuring that young mammals, including young human beings acquire the skills that they need to develop successfully into adulthood."
Knowing that children learn best through play, I designed a play based preschool. My environment is not unstructured or chaotic. It does, however allow the children to choose the activities that are enjoyable to them and to move as frequently from one fun activity to another. This type of environment also allows the child to discover her own likes and dislikes, as well as continue to develop her curiosity, problem solving skills, social skills and a multitude of other benefits. In early childhood, there does not need to be an end goal. In fact, with children under 6 years old there rarely is a winner or a loser or an end goal. Play is done for play's sake.
I do prepare daily and weekly activities for my class. The difference is that I allow the children to be children and to take the activities I lay out and do whatever they want to do. Case in point: today one of my students took a shape sorting toy and decided to make a house out of the shapes. I could not have been more proud!
So wherever you are, play more, play together, and play as often as you can!