The following is an excerpt from an NAEYC online author Q&A event with Ann Epstein on the book The Intentional Teacher: Choosing the Best Strategies for Young Children's Learning. The Q&A took place February 21-25, 2011. To view more highlights from 2011 online Q&As, click here.
Many parents today are concerned that "child-centered" activities won't help their child in future state tests. How can we explain to concerned parents that "child-centered" activities are as vital to a child's development as "intentional activities"?
You’re not alone in wanting to help parents understand that meaningful learning can and does occur during play! One way to help parents appreciate the importance of play is to encourage them to observe in the classroom and to share anecdotes with them about the “academic” learning that happens in play situations.
For example, point out how writing menus, taking orders, and making up prices helps children learn letters and numbers when they play restaurant. Explain that when children build with blocks, they are learning mathematics concepts like shape and size and spatial relations, as well as science concepts like the principles of balance. Help parents understand that when children choose what and how to use materials during free play, they inevitably encounter and have to solve problems—“The tape isn’t strong enough to hold the blocks together. What else can I use?”— which develops critical thinking skills.
Explain to parents that the specific knowledge and skills learned in these play situations will not only help their children perform well on tests, but more generally to like and succeed in school.
Remember, both child-guided and adult-guided learning are equally “intentional” on the part of the teacher. It takes just as much knowledge of child development to recognize and support child-guided learning as it does to initiate adult-guided learning. Don’t think of only adult-guided learning as being “intentional.”