Choosing The Best Preschool Environment For Your Child: The Benefits of Play-Based Preschool In The 21st Century

Play is the work of childhood
— Jean Piaget

Swiss psychologist, and leading child development expert, Jean Piaget, notably asserted, "play is the work of childhood." His groundbreaking research challenged adults, who necessarily operate in an adult world, to conceive of childhood as a separate and unique stage of human development. During childhood, fundamental learning occurs which impacts us for the rest of our lives. It's critical to consider how we can best support this foundational stage of life to promote optimal growth and development for our children. Here is a brief look at some of the most important reasons why play is essential to childhood, and an exploration of how play can be effectively applied to early childhood educational settings. 


The Importance of Play

The American Academy of Pediatrics published a comprehensive study on the importance of play for child development. Their report noted that while there is value to be derived from many different types of pursuits in childhood, including structured play such as athletics, unstructured, child-led free play is an incredibly powerful vehicle for growth and development in children. Some of the key benefits of unstructured, child-led free-play they highlight include:

  • It encourages creativity and helps develop imagination.

  • It promotes brain development as well as physical, cognitive, and emotional strength.

  • It encourages children to develop new competencies and face fears at their own pace.

  • It allows children to try on adult roles, to test decision-making skills, and to manage conflict.

  • It helps kids learn how to work in groups and discover new interests.

  • It is linked to increased physical activity and helps build healthy, active bodies.

  • It provides the kind of joy associated with a cherished childhood.

Having the opportunity to engage in creative play, independently, with peers, and with caring adults, is a vital building block that enables children to develop into healthy, integrated adults. Allowing ample opportunity for this sort of activity in childhood as part of a safe and loving life is a powerful gift we can give our children. 


The Role of Play in Education

While many people acknowledge the importance of creative play in childhood, some wonder about the practical application of play in a school setting. They question whether time dedicated to playing might somehow be interrupting critical work which might have a more practical application. However, research informs us that play-based learning can enhance the process by which children acquire knowledge and develop understanding. When a rich educational setting is provided, and children begin to explore, caring educators can follow their lead while at the same time helping students to take the next steps toward deeper understanding and mastery with appropriately-timed questions, suggestions, demonstrations, and partnerings. This supported, student-led style of learning presents new information when it's most meaningful to students, and subsequently, further knowledge is more likely to be retained and applied in other contexts. 

Our educational philosophy envisions educators as partners in learning, role models and caregivers. We believe children are inherently capable, and we provide an environment that will inspire their curiosity. As we follow where that curiosity leads, we will encourage our students to stretch as they learn and grow. We incorporate the type of cooperative, imaginative play that promotes child development, and we welcome family involvement in our school. Finally, with an understanding of the importance of meaningful interactions with nature for all growing minds, we spend ample time outdoors, including working in our school garden and exploring local trails. 


Plum Hill Preschool welcomes your exploration and questions. Contact us for more information or to schedule a tour. We'd be happy to share more with you about our approach and discuss all our school can offer as a resource to your family.