The Key to Learning is Play...Expert Commentary

As our city stirs with a brand new interest in the early childhood world, questions and suggestions about how to make childcare better cross Evansville with a great deal of love. I hope they discover that the answer is in a single word - PLAY.

Whether the goal is offering very young children a whole program or half a program, children will drink down the lessons with great gusto if it is based on play. In all the years I've taught very young children, I've never found a group of children unwilling to take the next step, or unwilling to try one more thing, to look at the next page so to speak when it's fun, when it's recreation.

Teaching is a matter of taking a child from where ever he is as far as you can in the time you have with him. If he's just potty trained and three, he needs to learn to play with others and build social bonds and relationships. That's a lot for the very young.

The three year old should learn to express himself and make others know of his needs in a polite and positive way. He needs to learn to understand what his needs are and how they are different from his desires, and also how they differ from his neighbors' needs and desires.

A three year old should learn how to build, how to dress up, how to mold clay, how to paint and how do make simple drawings, but most importantly, a three year old needs to learn to listen, when, where and to whom.

And now the child moves from the three year old play plan to a more cerebral four year old scheme. Provided he has learned to listen and to play and to get along with his friends, the next step is to understand how to problem solve.

"Here is a bowl of plastic bugs. If you were to divide them into groups, how would you do it?" Now the child studies the bugs and makes his decision. Some children will divide into colors, some into kind, and some into odd groups that make sense when the child is allowed to explain. It's always very interesting.

Four year olds should come to understand patterns, and numbers and how to count to 100. They should recognize numbers on things like calendars, charts and in books. Numbers are for playing games like bingo and dot to dots and what's missing games.

Four year olds can add if they are given manipulatives and shown how. It's a process and learning to do a process is a kind of problem solving. "I do this and then I do that."  And when a child is very clever, he does it backwards and it still works, and that's discovery.

In my 4K class- mostly fours and fives - we write a sentence every day that includes a child's name. Then children pick an action word. "Ken dances."  Then they choose a tail for the sentence - "Ken dances ?in the castle.'" Then they draw and color what they have written. It's early creative writing.

Reading can also be fun for a four year old because it's discovery. After a child learns his letters sounds with lots of game playing, he learns that some letters are air sounds and some are mouth sounds and how if you put the two together, you have an almost word.

By giving letters to play with, a child can build words with sounds and discover how to build cat, dog, rat, fat, mop, milk. There is power in knowing.

Knowing how to navigate a map, how to say good morning in Spanish or French or Japanese, how to explain how water is recycled is allowing a child to be an intelligent member of his society. "I know that," says the four year old. And he is beaming.

A four year old will begin to listen to longer and longer stories. Chapter books are a new phenomena for some children. They love to repeat the story, name the characters and offer insights into the theme.

Children love to laugh at funny poetry, and they will memorize nearly any song in parts, in solo and they will play anything you offer them that even looks like a musical instrument. Some children even have a good deal of rhythm.

The point of bringing 4K into the childcare classroom is to teach what kids want to learn. That's what the early years are for and it doesn't take much.