Schooling Verses Play toward Improved Reading and Arithmetic Outcomes

From conception to when children enter grade one reading classes, most children developed sufficient learning skills through their play activities that permit them to understand teacher-led reading instruction. Children through no fault of their own, who have been denied the opportunity to assimilate the readiness skills needed to understand reading instruction will experience learning difficulties. Without intervention they will be unable to understand what their teachers are explaining to them and will be doomed to the status of the “Struggling Reader.”

By age six, the sharp rise in their learning curve suddenly flattens out. This is when children begin grade one. Dr. Fraser Brown and Dr. Sophie in their study of play deprivation (2003), may have provided some answers as to why so many grade one children have difficulty understanding reading instruction. Their study revealed, “It has often been suggested that the cognitive aspects of the brain are not fully switched on until around the age of six or seven.” The education community has yet to realize that there are consequences when six year old children with weak readiness skills are placed in a teacher-led reading program. For the first time in their lives they will be expected to sit, remain still and follow rules set by their reading teacher. Most first graders cannot remain still for long periods of time. Any child who is unable to pay attention will find understanding all instruction beyond difficult. Unless an effort is made to accommodate their reading styles, teacher-led methodologies will prevent the struggling learner from achieving reading success.

Those parents reading my Reading Guide may begin to understand why I use play to reinforce basic skills required to learn. I will continue my attempt to help today’s reading teachers to change their reading program toward a more play-led program of instruction. The blame is not all theirs, I am sad to report that less than half of North American Faculties of Education included play-led instruction as part of their teacher training curricula. My immediate goal is to provide some guidance for parents to begin cognitive learning play activities that will help strengthen their children’s attention and listening skills.

Find games that your child enjoys playing, then slowly introduce games that you know will help them to think and problem solve. For example, the game of Pick-Up-Sticks not only strengthens the child’s fine motor skills, the problem solving learned will result in improved focusing and attention skills. The same can be said of Chinese checkers. Take your child to the library and have them select the books that they would like to have read to them. Goggle, “Questions parents should ask when reading yo and with their child.”

Nick Morrison in a January 12, 2022 Forbes article comments on Dr. Elizabeth Byres twentytwo year study on guided play learning, he states, “Children Learn More Through Play-Led than Teacher-Led Instruction.” “Teaching younger children through guided play can support key aspects of their learning and development at least as well, and sometimes better, than traditional, direct instruction, according to a new analysis.”

Primary students struggling to understand reading instruction were found to have phonological deficits. Until this is corrected, students will continue their downward spiral of failing to understand until they are helped to realize the value of every essential skill that makes understanding reading instruction possible. My background in play and undergraduate degree in the science of play, along with what I learned from experimenting with hundreds of reading as a remedial teacher working with children with learning disabilities, led me to believe in playled teaching strategies for any child to achieve reading success. What I was helped to realize changed my teacher-led methods to methodologies that my students began to understand. Depending on how well students learned most basic language skills in grade one, nearly a quarter of teacher-led children entering middle-school will experience learning difficulties. I would encourage you to ‘Google’ Nick Morrison’s four minute commentary on play-led teaching strategies. The same strategies that are included in all of your reading lessons.

If children are to achieve success in school, they must acquire the linguistic structure that the brain has been taught to remember. It controls the way your child is to learn in order to be able to think. An enriched play environment will help children develop the ‘expressive language’ skills necessary for them to understand and learn. Skills most children acquire through childhood play activities. Whether the learning skills be academic or social, play activities help a child’s brain to modify the development of neurons of the prefrontal cortex. It is this part of the brain that enables every child to remember what they see, hear, feel or touch. A child from an environmentally enriched playing environment absorbs learning skills that will help shape their intellectual development, as well as, their social and moral growth. Skills that will last a lifetime.

Gross Motor Play Activities that Help Develop Reading Skills

Most children’s reading readiness skills were developed through interactive cognitive play activities such as, running, jumping, skipping, wrestling, dodging, hopping, sliding, splashing, swinging, bowling, tossing, catching, throwing, crawling and digging in the dirt. Few if any of these activities are found in grade one reading lessons. Unfortunately, many educators remain steadfast in their belief that ‘playtime’ during school is reserved for recess and after school and incorporating play into the curriculum is seen as a waste of time. Currently there are North American school boards seriously contemplating eliminating recess altogether. Fortunately, only a few. A 2009 article by Sharon Cromwell in Education World, exposes the view of illinformed educators who demote recess to as an answer to “some cities, like Atlanta, have eliminated or cut back on recess in elementary school to free more time for instruction”. There are education experts of the opinion that, “Shaving a few minutes from recess, or even eliminating it altogether, they argue, won’t hurt children.” They believe, “Play has educational value, they admit, but play can occur outside school; school should be devoted to academics.” Tell that to a child from a play deprived neighborhood. Recess is often their favorite part of school. Educators such as Ingnacio Estrada, commonly known as “The Tutor Doctor” reinforces what play-led teachers have used to help their students learn all along, “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn. This methodology is called “differentiation”, used only by teachers willing to change how they teach to meet the needs of their students. This lends itself toward the teaching strategies of play-led instruction that creates a learning environment that makes learning achievable. Children use the learning that has brought them into the school but the child is allowed to bring past learning experiences to problem solve, with son guidance from their teacher and classmates. The child is allowed to learn how they learn best but they will require some help along the way, such as, answers to how concepts add up into information that advances their knowledge. They begin by gaining sufficient skills to make sense of what it is they are expected to learn. What is learned is seldom forgotten.

As a remedial teacher of students from grades one to grade eight, I was always able to trace a student’s reading performance profile to those language skills left unlearned before the student graduated grade one. This might explain why I have the parent tutor teaching their grade five child to relearn vowel digraphs and vowel diphthongs, basic language skills they should have learned in primary school. Those struggling readers who have yet to achieve reading skill levels before graduating grade three will go on struggling until someone intervenes. This is why I insist upon automaticity. No one moves to new lessons until they have mastered what was just taught. No regular education reading teacher can possibly know who the children are who will need intervention in developing all essential learning modalities that will be required to obtain success in learning how to learn. The answer is to teach the child at the level they understand. Have the entire class involved in play activities that strengthen all learning modalities. In the meantime those children experiencing reading difficulties will catch up. When the class has obtained all the learning skills as a permanent resource for them to understand, then begin teaching the child whatever subjects they are required to learn.

“One of the true evils of civilization is that no child has ever had enough time for play.”, A. S. Neill. It is my belief that if the classroom is reserved as a place that only teaches the ‘three R’s, then who will there be to teach children the positive values learned through play that enriches the students lives and prepares them for whatever the future has in store. It falls upon the homeroom reading teacher to fill the breach. Every one of their students will go on to be teenagers who will have been provided with life skills taught to them through a well-designed ‘play program’.

The Canadian Council on Learning states, “Play nourishes every aspect of a child’s development - it forms the foundation of intellectual, social and emotional skills necessary for success in school and in life”. When one looks at how today’s children spend their leisure time, one only needs to examine their ability to play with others and the skills they will need to collaborate in their adult lives. I am sure that any child who has had the opportunity to learn the skills required to play active games or discover the fulfillment and enjoyment of social play will choose to do so over engaging in less positive pursuits that may result in troubling experiences.

It seems to me that the proverb, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, could be the anthem for signifying how to play might be the prime ingredient for sharpening the future success for all children to not only learn to read but as a lifestyle.

Schooling Verses Play in Early Childhood Education

Recent studies have revealed that many Junior and Senior Kindergarten children are becoming stressed by performance standards that they are unable to achieve at school. The distress these children are feeling is not caused by the children’s teachers but the sociodynamics of stress caused from each child’s personal family history. Our social scientists have proven that stress is the greatest inhibitor for learning no matter what the age of the child or person. Stress produces anxiety and affects how the brain’s circuitry will be able to produce all the positive learning outcomes and helps shape the student’s motivation to want to learn. As social scientist Hank Pellissier states, “The emotional stability of the home is the single greatest predictor of academic success”. Anthony Cody has done research regarding the damage done by stress to the learning environment. “Our findings indicate that stress in the classroom environment affects children’s likelihood of exhibiting learning problems (difficulties with attentiveness, task persistence, and flexibility), externalizing problems (frequency with which the child argues, fights, disturbs ongoing activities and acts impulsively), problems interacting with peers (difficulties in forming friendships, dealing with other children, and showing sensitivity, or internalizing problems(presence of anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem, and sadness in the child”. “These findings suggest that stress in the form of negative classroom conditions - negatively affects the way children pay attention, stay on task, and are able to move from one activity to another”. By 2023, schooling will be a challenge to all teachers who will be confronted by overcrowded classrooms, children with language barriers, learning difficulties, not to mention all the stress and emotional behavior children will bring into their crowded classrooms. What can be done to provide enrichment programs for the gifted children in each classroom?

It always comes down to the to the old saying, “You can pay me now or pay me later”. We will get what we pay for, our children’s futures. The time has come to find a more productive way to make learning more easily understood. Consider this, “Lessons can be stimulating and challenging without being intimidating, and the increasing curriculum requirements can be achieved without stress, anxiety, boredom and alienation as the pervasive emotions of the school day.” Dr. Judy Willis, a neurologist-teacher who brings I believe she was referring to play-led instruction. A Learning environment free of stress and where you cannot fail to learn. Dr. Willis is not only a teacher but a neurologist who brings her understanding of learning outcomes both as a scientist and teacher showing that there is room to find different ways to motivate a child to learn.

Teach Our Children How to Play

Every child knows how to play! You’re wrong! Too many children are products of generations of families unable to or not interested in providing positive opportunities for play for their children because both parents worked or never have learned them while in school. Many of these parents were never afforded the opportunities to learn to play when they were children and find they are now unable to intellectually or financially provide positive play opportunities for their children. You just need to examine your local neighborhoods to predict the ‘haves and have nots’ in your city and how important play opportunities have been adequately provided for each community. This is each community’s social responsibility and they’d better begin before it’s too late. To accomplish this will require parents, schools and community organization to rethink their positions regarding the constructive values of play and include play as part of their life-styles. Your community must have sufficient playgrounds and community centers with trained staff to involve children with recreation activities from sports, arts and crafts, drama, public speaking, music and dance. Neighborhood facilities for youth to attend weekly social activities like music concerts and neighborhood dances to start. Every activity should be free and not only for families who can afford registration fees.

An Ounce of Prevention Proposal

“We are the custodians of our bodies. We must take action to employ healthy lifestyle habits to prevent, reduce, and/or manage disease and illness.”---Bridgette L. Collins. I am perplexed to understand why parents, schools, mental health organizations, as well as, local and regional government agencies like Parks and Recreation can’t understand that by providing for, no matter the cost, that providing recreation opportunities for all, it will save money in the long run. Are we not the custodians of our fellow man? Are we to continue to ignore what is happening the world-over because of climate change and its mounting expense? There is a lot to be said of that ounce of prevention not to mention the well-being of those it will affect.