Let Me Play! (Trust Me, I’m Learning)

This poster exploded onto the early childhood pages on Facebook yesterday.  Within hours of Jeff from Explorations Early Learning, LLC posting it to his Wall shares hit the hundreds and as I write it’s been shared over 1,800 times (possibly much more – some Pages have been sharing the image without attribution to Jeff and his Page). [Update: it’s now been shared almost 5,000 times as at 3/10/12, and it’s also available for purchase from Jeff’s website]

I am 3 - let me play poster

Source: Explorations Early Learning, LLC

It seems to have struck a chord; the vast majority of comments have been along the lines of “I love this!”, “so true!”, “yay!”, “amen!”, “I want to give this to all the parents at my centre/preschool!” and “I want to give this to all the teachers at my child’s centre/preschool!”

And those last two comments are, of course, the point.  Because learning through play is something that is increasingly getting lost in the relentless drive towards academic programs for preschoolers, and unrealistic expectations of children’s behaviour and needs.  More so in the US (where Jeff is based) than here in Australia, but even here many preschool programs are less play-based than they used to be.

There is a tendency to push the curriculum downwards – what would previously have been expected of Year One students is now increasingly being taught in kindergarten, and what would have been taught in kindergarten is being taught in preschools. Worksheets and standardised testing are supplanting construction play and home corners.  Outdoor play is being replaced with desk time.  Children’s needs are being overruled by society’s demands.

And this goes against 100 years of solid research into child development and how children learn.  Academic preschool programs that focus on direct instruction are worse than useless: they are actively harmful to children’s development in both the short and long term.

Similarly, programs that have unreal expectations of children’s behaviour – programs that require 3 year olds to sit still, to keep their hands to themselves, to stand in line, to be patient – are setting children up for failure.  Children with perfectly age and developmentally appropriate behaviour are being labelled as problems.  Children are being punished with time-out or other aversive systems for behaviour that is not only normal – it is desirable!

Everything that children need to learn comes through play, and developmentally appropriate quality programs that provide extensive opportunities for learning through play provide the best environment for children to flourish.

Now understand: I am not arguing that preschool programs should be a free-for-all, in which children are merely left to play without adult support and guidance about behaviour. Again, the research is unequivocal – such laissez-faire programs are ineffective at best, and harmful at worst.

But unless we as a society recognise that young children need extensive opportunities to learn through play, that academic direct instruction models are harmful to them, and that their “undesirable” behaviour is normal and developmentally appropriate, we are are failing them.

The adverse outcomes will be felt for generations; we must not allow that to happen. Play and play-based learning must be nurtured, it must be at the heart of every educational program whether that is child care, preschool, kindergarten or school.  As professionals or parents we need to stand up and defend play; to capitulate to the forces that oppose play is to fail both our children and society.


This post has been featured on It’s Playtime at let the children play


Like this post? Make sure you check out the rest of my web site!

And you can find Child’s Play Music on Facebook

You might also like these blog posts:

The Best Playground in Perth – The Naturescape

Music in ECE: Yes, You Can! Part One

Water Play, Music Play & Children: A Natural Combination

16 thoughts on “Let Me Play! (Trust Me, I’m Learning)

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more Alec … Another great post. Thanks for being such an amazing advocate for play based learning. As you said, solid research tells us this is the best way for children to learn. Here’s hoping your post gets shared around as often as Jeff’s posters have been. I for one will be doing my best to get it out there!
    Donna 🙂 🙂

  2. Another great post, Alec. If we could harness the enthusiasm of the people who liked and shared the image I created (with and without attribution) and who read insightful early learning blogs like yours and focus it on constructively defending play we could make a real difference. Imagine the impact of thousands of engaged caregivers and parents contacting elected officials via social media to make the case for play.

    • Jeff, I agree: if we are to defend play we need to be activist. Your poster (and my blog post) are contributions but unfortunately they are mainly going to be viewed by people who are already convinced of the importance of play in education.

      Social media campaigns are a great way of getting the message out to the decision makers that play is vital.

  3. Well said my ffriend! My 2 year-old boy has been having “trouble” listening in school and has not gotten a sticker at nap time becasue he “doesn’t” lay still. As a mother this saddens me (even though my son could care less about the stickers, as a fellow early childhood professional it is just WRONG! I have tried many times to talk with his teachers and the director to no avail. We have considered moving him, but I do not know of any child care center in my town that does any better. Thank you for posting your response to Jeffr’s poster… we need more people like you advocating for children.

    • Heather, that’s very sad and exactly the sort of thing I was thinking of when I wrote the post. I hope you can find somewhere better for your son, but I know how hard it can be to find quality care that is developmentally appropriate.

  4. Another great post Alec – I so agree that with ‘formal education’ starting earlier and earlier we are setting children up to fail …they should be allowed to just BE and to take part in opportunities that are developmentally appropriate.

  5. Alec, I love this post & have to say as soon as I saw these posters I thought ‘yay, someone else ‘gets’ it’ – I have shared & given credit to Jeff & the tree one inspired my latest post! I missed this post so am sharing it now – the revolution is bigger than we thought! Kierna

  6. So thrilled to read this excellent post! It is critical to our children that EVERYONE understands the enormous benefit play provides for developing brains. Play positively affects every aspect of healthy development and overall learning and we need to ensure all children are having the opportunity to develop in the most optimal way.
    Thank you for your valuable contribution to helping to make this understood!

  7. Sorry I’m late to the party Alec. Not only does this poster say it all, but your point about society’s push to put more pressure on young children to demonstrate more academic qualities is harmful is very valid. We should make up similar posters for us guys to advertise out great work and that we vey much belong with the kids.

  8. Pingback: Research and Articles « Music for Little Folks

  9. Pingback: Music in ECE: Yes, You Can! Part 2: Singing | Child's Play Music

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