Brain Development through Play Based Learning
Thu, Mar 14 7:46pm
Saratoga Parent Nursery School

Hello SPNS Families!!


This past weekend, Teacher Alexis and I were able to attend a preschool conference designed specifically for parent participation schools within California. There were many different sessions hosted by researchers and experts in child development, play-based learning and co-op communities. One of the sessions was from the Bing Nursery School at Stanford University where they produce important research in the field of child development and best practices. The Research Lead discussed some of their findings and we wanted to share it with you.


There are five factors that affect your child’s growth: diet, exercise, challenge, newness and love. A balanced diet and exercise are something that we all strive for with children and we have seen how loving you are, so I wanted to emphasize the part about challenge and newness. Young children need to build their experiences through experimentation and observation. This occurs naturally through play. We support experimentation and observation at SPNS through the use of different materials, such as water, paint, sand, playdough, sensory items and other manipulatives. But, so much of your child’s learning happens during unstructured and unguided play. This is the main reason that during our class times, we give your children free range to explore. If given free time, children will find different ways to challenge themselves and learn from a new experiences. Some growth is obvious, like when they learn to independently navigate the steps on the play structure. But a lot of their growth is subtle. No experience for a young child is trivial. An example of this is when we allow the children to pour their own water into their cups. This is not only a skill of independence, but also predictive timing. They learn spacial relationships though how close the pitcher should be to the cup; how fast/slow the water comes out depending on how they tilt the pitcher; they often learn how much it takes to overflow the glass; and they learn the cause and effect of too much. At first, most of the children aren’t proficient at pouring the water without overflowing the glass, but the more and more they experience this over time, they more they learn about the perfect timing to fill the cup without spilling. They begin to make a strong connection between what they have learned and predict what will happen each time. Repeating the activity will continue to strengthen their understanding (which is often why children will want to repeat an activity over and over.) They also learn sensory-motor skills-- as you interact with the world, sensory information comes in at a rapid rate and you learn to react accordingly. As adults, our impulse is to “help”, to do it for them, to prevent water spilling on the table. It doesn’t seem like they could be learning very much from pouring water into a cup. But, it turns out that predictive timing and sensory motor skills are key for learning to read. When you read a story, your eyes are quickly taking in the information and processing it, and your eyes continuously move ahead to predict what is coming next. Young children will even look for clues within a sentence or a picture if they aren’t sure what the word is or what it means.


Currently, in the Bay Area, there is emphasis and pressure on learning to read earlier and earlier. The researchers at Bing are finding that the decline in play and the increase of academics before the age of 5 are actually hurting children’s abilities to read and take in new information. Children need to have a strong understanding of the world around them as their foundation, before they can learn more advanced skills, such as letters and sounds. The researchers found that when children do not master predictive timing and sensory motor skills, they aren’t able to track words in a book as easily because they can’t process the information fast enough or make predictions about the words they will see next. It’s interesting to find out that by being at a play-based preschool, you are increasing your child’s academic abilities for later!


This isn’t to say that everyone should pull out pitchers of water and start pouring! As stated before, no experience is trivial in the eyes of a child. Playing with new textures, throwing pebbles in a puddles, driving a truck through sand-- they are learning something about sensory information and timing all the time! They begin to understand themselves and the world through their experiences! Giving them the gift of unstructured time and exploration through play is building that strong foundation. We thank you for helping us achieve these goals at SPNS, and believing in our philosophy of freedom and play!


I’m including an article about the effects of academics at younger and younger ages:


And if you’d like more information about some of the research at Bing Nursery School, they have a YouTube channel--