This summer, a group of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) principals visited our preschool to learn more about our play-based curriculum. A handful of CPS schools are taking on a new initiative to include more play in their early childhood programs, and these principals wanted to see what this looks like in action. We are very proud that this group of educators was given the name of Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School as a place to observe play-based education in action.
During their visit, these CPS principals spent the morning in different Akiba-Schechter classrooms and then met with me as a group. I shared with them the value of play, and we discussed how "play-based" truly means that children are learning all the time, because play is the work of childhood. I spoke about how much more challenging it is for children to negotiate a conflict, build a structure out of blocks with several friends, and create the “rules” for a game in the house corner than it is to complete a worksheet. I explained how our children are working on critical thinking skills, conflict resolution and acquiring life skills on how to socialize in a group. The principals shared that while this was visible while observing our classrooms, it would be challenging to make that happen in a different environment.
It seems that there is a lot of pressure to include more and more academics from outside institutions who don't understand early childhood and how children learn. The people creating these "standards" and "curriculum" are not necessarily educators. Parents get worried if these academics are not included that their children will be behind. Actually, studies show that children who have been in play-based programs are more successful, great critical thinkers and problem solvers, and have better social skills when they enter elementary school. Early readers are not necessarily better readers; it all tends to even out in that regard.
This CPS visit was a very interesting morning for me and my staff. I can understand the struggle that other schools may face in incorporating play-based learning into their curriculum and yet, we at Akiba can’t imagine it any other way. At the end of the day this encounter reminded me how lucky we are to be able to teach our children in the way that we believe is best, and also how lucky our children and families are to be able to benefit from such a rich environment that celebrates childhood and prepares children to be the best they can be.