Monday, August 6, 2012

Overly Academic Preschool Experiences May Actually Slow Learning

By Deborah McNelis
Studies show that the brain is not idle during daydreaming. While imagining, the brain is actually very active.
It is so incredibly important that young children have opportunities to play, experiment and explore using all of their senses with a variety of objects. The development of imagination and creative thought is one of the reasons I feel so strongly about the importance of play. Additionally, learning may actually be slowed by overly academic preschool experiences that introduce formalized learning experiences too early.

As numerous posts on this blog share, creative opportunities are critical to optimal development. Creativity and imagination are high level skills in the brain. It is essential these opportunities are provided for all young children. It is through experience and repetition that the brain learns and makes connections between neurons. It is only through play that children get the chance to develop these higher level brain skills. Activities like watching television or DVDs, doing paper and pencil tasks, or flash cards do not offer the possibility to develop imagination. Offering varied activities for play and exploring with real objects, people, and nature gives the brain the ability to pretend and to gain knowledge about how things in the world work. 

These types of experiences add to developing essential brain connections and contribute to the knowledge needed for the process of creativity. Creative ideas occur when the brain is in a relaxed state. A lack of stress allows children to open their mind to combining what is already known with new information. Young brains are then able to generate new thoughts and ideas.
It is so difficult to continuously hear stories about how frequently academics are pushed on children at younger and younger ages. Recently I was told of a mother that was relieved to find a preschool that taught spelling for her 2 ½ year old daughter! 

The importance of play in the early years is stressed in this article, All Work and No Play Makes For A Troubling Trend In Early Education, from Science Daily. The article shares thoughts from Anne Haas Dyson, a professor of curriculum and instruction in the U. of I. College of Education.

“While Dyson does see some value in teaching the ABCs to children in pre-kindergarten, she thinks that trying to accelerate learning actually works against a child’s development. Kindergarten and preschool, she said, should be a place for children to experience play as intellectual inquiry, before they get taken over by the tyranny of high-stakes testing.
“I’m certainly not opposed to literacy in the early grades,” Dyson said, “but the idea that we can eliminate play from the curriculum doesn’t make sense. Kids don’t respond well to sitting still in their desks and listening at that age. They need stimulation.”
Dyson said that having an early-childhood curriculum reduced to isolated test scores or other measurable pieces of information doesn’t take into account a child’s interests or an ability to imagine, problem solve or negotiate with other children, all of which are important social and intellectual qualities.
“All tests tell us is how many letters and how many sounds children know,” she said. “I think there should be this grand societal conversation about what’s intellectually motivating and exciting for our children.”

I find it extremely difficult to realize that science provides knowledge beyond anything we have previously known to demonstrate what developing children need most, and yet there continues to be a disconnect between this understanding and practice in far too many situations.    
Through sharing the incredibly valuable information and extraordinarily creative ideas posted here and on the blogs of the individuals sharing here each month, it is my hope that EVERYONE will finally understand how children’s brains develop best. We can so easily make a positive difference when we share this knowledge with caring parents. It provides great relief to parents when they feel informed when choosing a preschool. 

When children are engaged in play it is almost like you can see the brain connections being made!  Let’s continue sharing until every child is enjoying what they want to do most….. JUST PLAY! 

If interested in further information to share with parents, I invite you to visit Brain Insights or my blog, or feel free to contact me. I always enjoy connecting with others that are passionate about young children! Have a very FUN day! 


  1. Thank you for the wonderful article Deborah. It highlights the critical importance of play, imagination and creativity and how all three are linked to the growth of a child in so many ways. Cheers!

  2. Thank you for sharing this post. I just might be sending you an email!

  3. Thank you for all the very nice comments! It is always so great to connect with others that are enthusiastic about getting this important message heard.. and to those also making it happen in classrooms everyday!!

  4. I love this post! School has just started for us and it seems this time of year is when I have to explain this to incoming parents of preschoolers. Within a few weeks, they begin to realize the value of our play, but at the outset, some of them need reassurance that play is essential to the skills they will need to build upon for life. Thanks so much for this~ I'm printing this out and sharing in our parent information area!

    1. You are so very welcome Ayn! It is wonderful to know that it is being shared and helping to promote the understanding of this need for children. Thanks again for all you are doing to provide experiences for the healthy development of children's brains and for helping the parents see the difference it makes!

  5. That's a scary story about the mother wanting a preschool that taught spelling to 2 1/2 year olds. It's so true that hands-on experiences are essential for young children. I pinned your post to the Group Board: Professional Development in Early Childhood Education at

  6. It is very upsetting to hear those types of stories isn't it Deb? Thank you very much for pinning this to help prevent these types of experiences for more children!

  7. In our society that pushes children at a very early age to read and write we remain a "play-based" preschool that spends a great deal of time educating our parents on the importance of play! Once they understand how much learning is going on they get it!!! Thank you for this article


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