With more and more emphasis on maths and reading tests, we are forgetting the things that are really important in raising humans.

It’s not just what pre-school children learn, but how they learn.  Kids get more out of playing when teachers guide or ‘scaffold’ imaginative activities, enriching story lines or adding math concepts. Warmth and emotional responsiveness have also been shown to be crucial factors in teaching young learners.

Kids today don’t have the enriching experiences they had decades ago – hanging out with a ‘gang’ of mixed age neighbourhood children, sent out to play from morning until evening – the eldest children modelled and taught the younger ones more sophisticated forms of play. Today parental safety concerns have substituted structured activities such as sports and music lessons. When kids do play, they typically play with kids of their own age who don’t provide the same challenges.

Researchers believe that play can be more educational for young kids when it is not free and unstructured but guided by skilled adults and embracing different age groups. Four-year-old reception children group with year 1 and 2 students; 6 year old’s join 7 and 8-year old’s to investigate a science concept.  Some schools are now implementing mixed age group learning sessions a couple of times a week, which are overseen by a skilled teacher – who supervises older children guiding youngsters  looking at a pile of sand or a leaf under a microscope for example – its engaging and requires active, hands – on and usually social experiences.

In my experience, teacher driven instruction is less effective for learning in the long term; it sometimes stifles curiosity and creativity. New research suggests that teachers should be doing the opposite with our pre-school children – teaching kids through scaffolded play and hands-on, child – led activities, which can help them learn concepts more deeply.

Contact me for information on effective teacher training sessions that make a difference:


Thanks to Scientific American Mind, March/April 2017

The Serious Need for Play, Melinda Wenner Moyer, February/March 2009