At Green Apple Garden Playschool, we believe that in early childhood, children learn best through play, and not through performance-based learning. It is the child's work to play, and learn through that medium. Within their experience of play, they are learning social/emotional, cognitive, motor, and (yes) academic skills.
Research shows that the most important skill to be ready for kindergarten is self-regulation. Self-regulation is a child's ability to have control over their behavior and their environment. Researchers agree that the best learning happens when the child is capable of self-regulation. Self-regulation involves the control of three aspects of learning: behavior, motivation, and cognitive strategies. When children play freely, they are constantly working on all three of these aspects of learning. They are navigating a world where they learn how to regulate their behavior through social interactions, regulate their motivation levels by freely exploring a variety of stimuli, and regulate their cognitive strategies through experimentation. Kids learn so much about how the world works and how their own bodies and minds work when they are left to play freely.
Self-regulation is learned through play, and so is academic readiness. Through play, they learn the skills they need to succeed in literacy, math, and science. If a child is taught letters and numbers at a preschool age, they can memorize them, but they don't understand what they mean. This impacts their comprehension at later stages of academic learning. If they learn these skills through play, it is interactive and exploratory. By exploring language and acting out stories, children find meaning in the words. By experimenting, children begin to understand math and science concepts.
Unfortunately, the push of the Common Core is weighing heavily on many early childhood educators' minds. They feel the pressure. They know what is best for young children, but they are told they have to resist that. If only the Common Core had been written by people who understand how young children's minds develop!
At Green Apple, we encourage the teachers to guide all the kids' learning through the medium of play. We believe this is what will serve the children best in the long run, even if the pressure for academic learning in kindergarten is forefront.