There is a growing trend in the educational community to decrease the time allotted for play activity in school schedules in favor of devoting more time to academics. Unfortunately, decreasing the amount of play activity can often lead to academic instructors fighting the normal developmental cycle and working against a child’s brain to teach something that cannot yet be understood.
The preoperational phase of development is characterized in part by decentration, or an inability to consider multiple sources of information simultaneously. Children in this stage also struggle with preoperational egocentrism (or perspective taking) which is a lack of ability to recognize the thoughts, feelings and opinions of others. The scaffolding process by which children build a knowledge and understanding of language is one that begins in the preoperational phase as well and continues through childhood.
Children begin to build a working knowledge of these concepts through play activity. Dramatic play, storytelling, interactive games and other kinesthetic activities work to teach age-appropriate concepts by engaging children the way they learn. Distinguishing play from real life is not a skill during the preoperational phase, so any concepts learned through play are quickly integrated into the child’s understanding of the world around them. Play supports the growth of executive function and is largely recognized as the catalyst for the building of foundational skills in children.