A lot of schools say they are play-based, but are they really?

You walk into an adorable pre-school and find the children playing outside. You see them playing indoors too, with dolls and kitchen sets and you feel good about the prospect of your child receiving a play-based learning experience as you know the amazing benefits play-based learning can provide. But here’s the catch. Just because a program lets children play, does not mean they are play-based. In between outdoor time and creative indoor play, those same children could be seated for lengthy bits of time working on worksheets and handouts and being offered rote forms of memorization. This is NOT play-based learning. True play-based learning, which is what Waldorf Moraine Farm offers, is centered entirely around play. Academic subjects are being taught, but in a way that children can access them with joy, interest, and engagement.

“Play is a complex activity with many aspects, but we can list some of the characteristics of play that support learning — free-to-fail, spontaneous, enjoyable, challenging, intrinsically motivated, engaging, imaginative and social,” explains Dr. Craig Bach, vice president of education of The Goddard School.

In play-based learning, structure exists, but the focus is primarily on social skills like self-control, making friends, sharing and getting along with others. In a typical kindergarten day here at Moraine Farm, children spend 3-4 hours outside, rain or shine. They cut wood, make fires, gather sticks, count out silverware to set the lunch table. They climb structures and stomp in the puddles. They make boats out of tree bark and slide down the snowy hills in the winter. They go on hikes observing and discussing seasonal changes and wildlife (bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, ducks, swans, salamanders, frogs, red-tailed squirrels, turkeys, chipmunks, groundhogs). They engage in indoor and outdoor imaginary play without being directed or led by their teachers. It’s this level of freedom that allows for an immense level of social development and conflict resolution skills. If a problem arises, teachers allow the space and time for the children to work out the conflict on their own before making any suggestions. Poems, story-telling and singing are also part of the daily curriculum, developing their foundational literacy skills, listening comprehension and math skills.

Public schools continue to push and expand what they expect of their Kindergarten and 1st graders academically. As a result, teachers have expressed concern that they are seeing a lack in simple social skills such as sharing and conversational ability. And more studies continue to show that delaying entrance into public K (which means the world of academic pressure) is beneficial to children. Earlier is not better.

“Moraine Farm is an environment that lets kids be kids.” -Waldorf parent

There is no window that closes on learning to read or count by tens. If anything, those concepts quickly disintegrate when introduced too early. There is, however, a window on social and physical milestones, and if missed, can present themselves in problematic ways down the line. At Waldorf School at Moraine Farm, we honor the child by offering a developmentally appropriate curriculum, as well as a school day focused on building loving relationships, learning empathy and kindness, and play: in our classroom, in nature, with our friends.

Learn more on how a play-based curriculum could be right for your child.


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