2 to 5 year olds can be a very challenging age group to manage for parents as well as teachers. In education, these age groups are considered preschoolers and in recent years, teachers can now be specialized in educating this particular age group. This article seeks to bring to the limelight growing trends in educating preschoolers.
It should be established first that ideally children between the ages of 0 and 5 should not be in a school setting with a curriculum and structured lessons. However, industrial revolution coupled with the increasing need for many mothers to work outside their homes has made it necessary to create space for preschoolers in the school environment.
It is however noteworthy that there are a lot of inadequacies and inappropriateness associated with preschool education in Nigeria. This is because according to educational psychology theories such as Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development, development of human intelligence is in stages and cognitive development is a progressive reorganization of mental processes resulting from biological maturation and environmental experience.
According to Piaget, children aged 2-5 years are in a pre-operational developmental stage. It is at the beginning of this stage that children start to learn to speak. They do not yet understand concrete logic and cannot mentally manipulate information. Defying these theories, a lot of preschoolers are exposed to many overwhelming experiences which are incommensurate with their mental maturity and psychological readiness.
It is therefore very essential for preschool teachers to put into consideration the mental capacity and capabilities of preschoolers when planning learning experiences.
A lot of times, preschoolers are made to sit long hours in a chair repeating rhymes or letters after their teachers when they clearly carry an invisible sign that says “I’m three. I can’t stay put”. Children aged 2-5 years have an amazing amount of energy in their little bodies which sometimes make adults think they are just being hyperactive. They need to put these energies into constructive use and this is where unstructured play comes in.
Unstructured play is a type of play in which children engage in open-ended play that has no specific learning objective. It is simply letting kids be who they are – kids. Building a shapeless sand castle is unstructured play while following directions to build a Lego city is not. Singing silly, meaningless songs out loud is unstructured while singing the days of the weeks after a teacher is not.
Many experts believe that unstructured play is an essential part of childhood because it gives children a sense of freedom and that they are in control. It allows them to learn about themselves and other children and make mistakes under no pressure of failure. It allows them to build their motor skills and be creative. It also helps kids to develop executive function, problem-solving and social skills. Very observant parents and teachers can even begin to tell if a child is domineering or has leadership skills just by watching them play unstructured.
Learning by Discovery
The theory of learning by discovery assumes that children learn best through experimentation and discovery of facts and relationships on their own. The underlying principle in discovery learning is “what if?”. Children simply find out what would happen if they do things in a certain way. For instance, kids can find out that a scale would tip over when they place heavier material on one of its sides or that it is easier to fill a bottle using funnel rather than an open-mouthed bowl. Preschool teachers have a wide range of activities to choose from to implement discovery learning in classroom situations.
Discovery learning serves as a good start to learning science for kids as it encourages them to establish facts on their own. It encourages experimentation and perseverance, pulling kids out of their comfort zones to achieve results. It encourages children to ask questions and imagine possibilities. It builds the little scientists in them by getting them in the habit of making educated guesses. It also creates a learning environment that is fun and progressive.
Basically, the point of this article is to drive the motion that preschoolers be put through only age-appropriate learning experiences as this is the only way to get them to be the best they can be. It is also very important to emphasize that a good preschool education would go a long way in shaping useful, innovative and independent adults that would be pluses to the human resources of our ever-growing nation. What are your thoughts about this?