Those things you learn without joy you will forget easily . . . — Finish Saying
I just read a really interesting blog entitled The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland posted by taughtbyfindland.com in October of last year. It talks about how today’s kindergarten was yesterday’s first grade. How learning to read has become not only a goal but mandatory for kindergartners. We’re talking about 5 year olds here.
By now, we all know that time spent on literacy in our kindergarten classrooms has increased, at the expense of time spent on music, arts, child selected activities and active playtime outside, as in recess. Formal instruction has also increased as has the use of assessments. Again, we’re talking about 5 year olds here.
Of course, there are schools here that have gone another route and make child driven activities their focus, understanding that children learn best through play. But those schools are a small percentage when compared to all the schools that have more and more taken play out of the learning experience.
Finland has a totally different take on how kindergartners learn best. First, children start kindergarten at age 6. Second, they spend a large part of their days in active play. Finland requires its kindergarten teachers to offer playful learning opportunities to every kindergartner on a regular basis. The blogger – a teacher who had moved to Finland two years ago – goes on to relate his story of visiting a Finnish public kindergarten where a typical school day is just four hours long. There are drastic differences between what he saw there vs. what happens in our own kindergarten classes here.
There are whole days devoted just to games and active sports, and whole days devoted just to songs and stations. The school’s kindergarten educators have their students engage in desk work—like handwriting—just one day a week. There’s an understanding there that it’s not a natural way for a child to learn when the teacher says, ‘Take this pencil and sit still.’ — Tim Walker
My favorite quote in the article is
Play is a very efficient way of learning for children. And we can use it in a way that children will learn with joy. — Tim Walker
That word – joy – is my favorite word in the English language. It evokes so many good memories and feelings for me. In so many ways, I think that people these days have lost their joy in life, in love and in learning.
The blog goes on to quote an old Finish saying: “Those things you learn without joy you will forget easily.”
So, understanding that we are not going to change our own education system overnight. There are ways to create joyful learning experiences for the children of our community. Here in Phoenix, you have the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, where their vision is to “foster a joy of learning” (check their website, it’s on their About Us/Mission & History page). They have over 300 hands-on play experiences designed just for children ages 10 and under. And they have a specific focus on the five and younger set.
This Museum has three floors of interactive exhibits that are child driven, open-ended and no-fail. There is no right or wrong way of doing something here. What happens is all based on the child’s developmental stage at that time. Which makes the learning that much more important. Because what they can’t do, or don’t feel comfortable doing on one visit, they can try it on the next. And that repetition of doing something over and over until you feel you have “mastered” it, teaches a child to takes risks, to persevere and to succeed, all while playing. Unbeknownst to them, they will also be learning math, and science, and building literacy skills all at the same time plus so much more.
So if you think your child’s school is not doling out enough play time to your child, bring them to the Children’s Museum of Phoenix where they can learn in a truly joyful way. Also, remember to always offer your kids open-ended play experiences where they can use their creativity and imagination early and often.
You can read Tim Walker’s great blog– the inspiration for this post — here: http://taughtbyfinland.com/the-joyful-illiterate-kindergartners-of-finland/
I’ve always loved children. Even as a child myself, I would play with my dolls as if they were my babies. Or I would line up all my dolls and teddy bears and pretend they were in school and I was their teacher. As an adult, I have been blessed with twin daughters who spent a lot of time in self-directed, open-ended play when they were children. Children are our most valuable asset.
As the Director of Marketing and Communications for the Children’s Museum of Phoenix I get to surround myself with the sights and sounds of thousands of little bodies in the Museum each and every day. It made sense to me that I would wind up here in a place that values early childhood development and school readiness of children to the degree that we do.
Our mission, is to engage the minds, muscles and imaginations of children and the grown-ups who care about them. And in today’s world, when more and more of our children’s playtime is being taken away from them and being replaced by didactic learning environments, I feel especially privileged to work towards bringing learning into children’s lives the way that they learn best – through play!8