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Early Childhood Play Based Curriculum

The chapter provides the introduction of the topic and the problem that I would like to investigate. The chapter is designed to give the readers an overview of what the study will be about and the key concepts that will be measured and analyzed in the study. The purpose and motivation for the current study provides the rationale for the current study and why it is important. The next chapter will present the related studies and researches on play based curriculum and parental choice of preschools.

Chapter 2 Literature Review Understanding a concept or idea requires a certain amount of commitment to know more about the concept, better understanding lead to better choices and decisions and effective outcomes. This chapter aids to establish the context in which parents choose preschools and how preschool curriculums had been studied in recent years. Preschool Curriculums Preschool curriculums had been plenty each with its own teaching philosophy and concentration.

Preschool curriculums in America either strictly follows a key philosophy such as Montessori, Reggio Emilia and Waldorf, or focus on the educational objective of the curriculum like academic based and play based, whatever the program, the National Association for the Education of Young Children advocate the use of developmentally appropriate practices for all preschool curriculums (Berk, 2001). Developmental appropriateness indicate that young children’s cognitive, social, emotional, physical and learning aspects should be nurtured, encouraged, reinforced and developed in a learning environment that emphasizes creativity, play and discovery.

In a survey of preschool programs in the early history of preschool education, the most widely adopted curriculum is Montessori (Dahlberg, Moss & Pence, 1999), this curriculum focuses on the child’s pacing and needs, for example, children in Montessori schools are not forced to take a test or complete an activity in a given period of time, the child can work on the activity as long as it will take him/her to finish it. Many parents had found this curriculum beneficial to their child since it is not stressful.

Despite the self-pacing aspect of Montessori programs, children are required to work on literacy and numeracy skills using worksheets and other prepared activities. The teacher serves as a guide rather than as a teacher, children are given the independence to choose what they want to work on and whether they need help or not. The Montessori approach is suited for children who would benefit form a hands on approach and those who might need special attention since teachers provide individual attention to students (Haines, 2000).

The Waldorf approach is a relatively new program that private preschools had adopted in the country; it originated from Austria and has been a popular model. The Waldorf approach is geared towards developing the spirit, soul and body of the child. Thus, Waldorf programs create nurturing environments for children so they can engage in creative play and discovery. Typical activities in Waldorf programs include painting, coloring, singing, reciting poems, building houses from boxes and pretend play.

The program generally is beneficial to all children and those who enjoy being in groups (MacNaughton & Williams, 2009). The High-scope approach is based on the theory that children learn best when they are actively involved with people, materials, ideas and events. The children are given the freedom to choose their own materials and activities and teachers support this kind of independence. The High scope program had been found to be effective despite its newness in the preschool arena.

The program was originally designed for at-risk urban children; it has also been used in conjunction with the Headstart program of the government. The High scope program identified key experiences that all preschool children should be able to have, these include creative representation, language and literacy, movement, music, numbers, classification, time and others. The use of computer programs is essential to the preschool program since carefully chosen educational games and software that can increase the learning experience of the child (MacNaughton & Williams, 2009).

Among the practices used in developmentally appropriate classrooms is the integrated curriculum. Jinnah and Walters (2008) defines integration as the combining of separate elements to make up a whole in that the separate parts lack something. In an integrated approach to curricular development young children may engage in interactions that use math, science, social studies, or language knowledge and skills to solve problems and complete projects.

This curricular approach is represented through projects and learning centers which have been the hallmark of early childhood educators who have stressed the total development of the child (Kagan, 1988). Academic based curriculums or those that advocate the use of worksheets to teach children numbers and letters and reading had been a popular component of almost all preschool programs. The emphasis on the learning of numbers and letters are due to the competitive nature of formal schooling.

Parents often demand that their children be taught the said skills in preparation for kindergarten. With the emphasis on academic achievement and grades, it is no wonder that many parents feel that the academic based curriculum is what preschools should be about (MacNaughton & Williams, 2009). However, studies had repeatedly found that the use of worksheets is not developmentally appropriate for children in preschool. This would mean that the cognitive and motor abilities of young children had not been fully developed to work well on worksheet tasks.

However, worksheets still are an integral component of preschool programs. A key component of play based curriculum is the use of learning centers throughout the classroom area, there are spaces provided for art work with colors, paper, paint, pictures, tables and chairs; in another area is a space for pretend play, with a mini kitchen, a small house, where skills such as brushing teeth, washing hands and other life skills are learned.

Still in another area is a reading center where books are plenty, sofas or mats are placed to make reading comfortable and etc. the number of learning centers is limited only by the resources and the creativity of the teachers although basic learning centers must be present in each classroom to ensure the quality of the program (Elkind, 2007). Children’s modes of learning and communication used in questioning, reporting, problem solving, and analyzing are supported through an integrated curriculum (Barbour, 1987; Bredekamp, 1997).

Saluja, Early and Clifford (2002), reported that the act of thinking automatically integrates cognitive, motor, and social-emotional development. Early childhood educators have reported that children’s learning proceeds simultaneously, rather than in a tidy, segmented, hierarchical package (Christie & Enz, 1992). Pellegrini (1980) stated that the integrated curriculum provides for maximum growth and eliminates subject-related distinctions. This approach allows for flexibility in individuals and in group time organization.

Some kindergarten teachers are intimidated with using play in the classroom. Perrone (2000) suggested that classroom teachers are best suited for making decisions about using play in the classroom, but, because of earlier, negative music experiences, many kindergarten teachers believe they are incompetent to provide play for young children. Furthermore, teachers that do provide play experiences are often proceeding through instinct because of a lack of information regarding appropriate play experiences of young children (Perrone, 2000).

Because of their relevance to the total development of each child, play activities that are integrated into the daily curriculum are offered to the once-a-week time period for a play experience Bredekamp, 1997). Bayless and Ramsey (1997) suggested that play be integrated throughout the day. Their suggestions included using to match themes, to enhance reading skills, to develop skills related to science and number, and to support social development.

Others have suggested that play be used to support child growth and development as well as to support different aspects of curriculum. Bergen (2000) stated that the play experiences can enhance social and physical development and creative expressions. Play can help change the pace of routine activities and provide transitional experiences between activities as well as providing children with opportunities to sing in groups. Curran (1999) suggested that play be a part of learning centers, dramatic play, outdoor play, rest time, special occasions, and listening games.

Bergen (1998) stated that, in addition to being a part of planned daily activities, play should be used spontaneously to support other curricular areas, to promote variety, and to provide transitions into activities. Developmentally Appropriate Practices The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) advocates that all children should have access to developmentally appropriate curriculums in preschool. Thus, preschool programs should focus on the totality of the child’s development and not just one or two aspects.

In this regard, programs that place emphasis on academics, play or life skills only are not in accordance with the NAEYC’s mandate. Developmentally appropriate activities facilitate the active exploration and interaction of the child with adults, other children and learning materials (Bredekamp, 1997). Developmentally appropriate curriculums provide children with the opportunity to work with other children in groups or engage in solitary activities. Moreover, children can initiate, direct and practice skills as they want to at any given time.

It is also important that materials, activities, games are all concrete and relevant to children and which are provided in a learning environment that favors unstructured thinking. Bredekamp (1987) states that developmentally inappropriate programs include learning activities that are mostly large group oriented, teacher directed, and structured. Instructional strategies that include whole group lectures, paper-and-pencil workbook exercises, and silent work at individually assigned seats are also inappropriate.

Given that developmentally appropriate practices are mandated by early childhood education advocates, the reality is that not many preschool programs adhere to the provisions of developmentally appropriate practices due to the emphasis on academic instruction and performance of state laws and policies. Even with documented research on appropriate curricula, many kindergarten teacher are mandated to use curricula that give first priority to teaching subjects while developmental needs are secondary (New, Mardell & Robinson, 2005).

Many of these mandates concern standardized tests. Kindergarten and primary teachers are in agreement with the need for developmentally appropriate practices, but, because of the focus on specific scores from standardized tests, they are prevented from doing what is best for students (Bredekamp & Shepard, 1999). There is also evidence that many kindergarten teachers are choosing developmentally inappropriate practices even without mandates (Bergen, 2002).

Developmentally inappropriate practices have been found to cause stress in administrators, teachers, and children. In a study of kindergarten practices in Ohio, Hatch and Freeman (1988) reported that children were not the only ones affected by an inappropriate focus on academic skills. Teachers, principals, and supervisors were also found to be victims of stress because of the increased potential for student failure.

Children especially in the preschool age do not have the cognitive skills to learn and master academic content such as reading and writing, thus it is almost expected that children would fail standardized exams. Legislation on not including kindergarten on academic achievement tests should be passed since it is not needed. A study by Wiedey and Lichtenstein (1997) found that of seven student stressors reported by kindergarten teachers, academic tasks which were developmentally inappropriate caused the second most severe symptoms in students. In their study, Burts et.

al. (1999) found that more stress-related behaviors were exhibited in developmentally inappropriate classrooms than in developmentally appropriate classrooms. Developmentally inappropriate programs miss opportunities for optimal learning. When children are tasked to work on activities and materials that are not suited to their cognitive abilities, they will develop adverse reactions to the materials, children who are forced to read might not develop the love for reading thereby limiting the kind of learning that the child should have developed.

Based on Piagetian understandings about how children learn, programs which stress single subject teaching with an emphasis on academics lessen opportunity for growth in other areas (Peck et al. , 1999). Programs that classify information in discrete categories are providing learning experiences typically used with adults, not young children (Elkind, 1996). Certification does not necessarily qualify a teacher to provide developmentally appropriate experience.

Bredekamp (1987) reported that teachers are certified by many states as qualified to teach four-and five-year-old regardless of teacher specialized training or supervised experiences with children from this age group. In many states, the scope of certification is kindergarten through third or kindergarten through six grade with little emphasis placed on planning and implementing the curriculum for kindergarten.

This leaves teachers inadequately prepared for planning an effective program for kindergarten which results in the pushing down of philosophies, curricular, and methods from the upper grade levels (Grannuci, 1990). She continued that, with teacher certification extending from kindergarten to sixth or eight grade, states run the risk of having certified kindergarten teachers without field work with kindergarten children. Policies such as these may be responsible for the increasing focus on academic in kindergarten programs.

An Educational Research Services study of kindergarten teachers’ perception of the primary focus of the program reflected the inconsistencies between certification and practice. The results of this nationwide study of 1,082 kindergarten teachers concluded that 8. 1 percent of the respondents focused on child development while 62. 9 percent focused on academic readiness (Gardner, 1986). Coinciding with this response is Elkind’s report (1988) with findings of similar conflicts between kindergarten teachers’ practices and what is actually appropriate for young children.

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