Evidenced-based learning: Play, play, play

My two oldest children received letters in the mail this week from their teachers – a sure sign that “back-to-school” is creeping closer. As I start wrapping my head around school supplies and book schedules, I thought back to this post about the importance of play in learning. I’m hoping that my kids’ teachers keep in mind the importance of play in the classroom this year.

It’s the time of year when parents across the country are getting their children ready to go back to school. There is shopping for backpacks and pencils, lunch packing and sometimes even activities like flashcards.

But there’s a growing body of evidence – as reported in the New York Times last weekend – that the best way to develop young minds is through play.

Megan McClelland, an early childhood researchers at Oregon State University, has conducted many of the studies that demonstrate it’s most important for young children to learn how to pay attention and follow instructions, and games like Simon Says and Red Light-Green Light are the best ways to teach these skills.

Her most recent study, published in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly, tracked 430 children over 25 years. They found children who received high ratings for persistence and paying attention at age four had nearly 50 percent greater odds of getting a bachelor’s degree by age 25. In fact, these abilities were a better predictor of completing a bachelor’s degree than math or reading skills at any age.

An earlier intervention study of 65 preschoolers found games that required children to listen and pay attention, think, and then act taught self-regulation and helped children improve in identifying letters and words.

You can find more information about educational games to play with preschoolers at McClelland’s web site. The bottom line?  Put away those educational DVDs and flashcards in favor of playing some old-school games.

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