Creating capacity for the future

3 Jul

Most people think of the years before school as waiting in the wings for real school to begin. This attitude creates the opportunity for practices such as formal reading and writing, teaching young children “Maths” and exposing them to formal worksheets and colouring-in activities. Unfortunately, many people believe that these activities will ensure that children do well at school.

In spite of numerous knowledgeable voices, there is still a strong belief that the younger you start, the better the end result will be. This belief takes no notice of the fact that young children learn in a very different way from adults. It also does not take notice of the fact that playing is absolutely essential for the learning of young children.

Creating capacity for the future means that we have to be aware that young children’s brains are still developing. What exactly is the nature of creating capacity for the future?

Playing imaginative games that are self-initiated can create the capacity for sophisticated social skills like being able to compromise, to negotiate and to put your own wishes on hold because the group wants something else. Rough and tumble play, where young boys (and girls, if we allow them) wrestle and play rough games, prepares men for the boardroom strategies (Stuart Brown in “Play”). These games all have rules and playing by the rules prepares us for life as nothing else can.

Learning to explore and finding out about the world prepare young children to take risks, to make mistakes and to take responsibility for rectifying their mistakes. In this process children learn to trust themselves and to believe in their ability to do things. In terms of academic prowess, being an independent, self-motivated learner is an incredible advantage. These are the characteristics we need for future scientists and explorers.

There is also the very important skill of being able to “read” other people. This skill can only develop in the presence of other people and especially in the presence of peers.

Research in the last few months showed that children that played with blocks in the preschool phase did better in Algebra in Grade 10 than young children who did not play with blocks. The “wasted” time spent playing actually has a cumulative positive effect. The older people get the more important these skills become and the greater the influence on their lives.

If we put pressure on children to learn and practise things like reading, writing or Math before they are developmentally ready to learn these skills, they very often experience stress, frustration and sometimes anger.  As teachers and parents we need to remember two important things: the one is that young children very seldom mature simultaneously; the second thing is that most children need time to develop in their own way.

Let us not pressurise our children to grow up. They do that so quickly in any case.

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