Imaginative play: A pre-requisite for school readiness?



Educational researchers and academics have always underlined the importance of imaginative and purposeful play in early childhood development and its role in preparing young children for primary school and the start of academic instruction. Twenty years ago, a child who could read at the start of grade 1 was seen as the exception to the rule. Nowadays, children who are unable to read early on in grade 1 are seen as ‘slow’ or ‘behind’.

What has changed over the past two decades that we are forcing our young ones into the rigours of structured academics at a younger age than ever, and at an even scarier pace? Why do we accept this as the new baseline for education?

Being ready for academic learning is about developing the whole child, intellectually, socially and physically, and understanding the developmental needs of pre-schoolers is what distinguishes Waldorf education from current mainstream education.

During their first 7 years, toddlers and young children should ideally be encouraged to master their bodies, emotions and imaginations:

– Their bodies learn first by focusing on large motor skills like sitting, crawling, walking and later on running, climbing, etc. Fine motor skills can be developed by drawing, painting, kneading and playing with dough and baking.

– They learn to control their emotions and will, a very important social skill, when they start pre-school and start interacting with children of different ages and backgrounds in the same sandbox.

– Children must also spend these first seven years laying a strong foundation for their imaginative world. All abstract academic concepts to come will tap into a child’s imaginative mind. When they meet Dwarfie Minus in grade 1 with the hole in his knapsack through which he keeps losing his stones, their imaginations will fuel the fire of learning the mathematical concept of ‘taking away’.

Pre-schoolers are not developmentally ready to sit and learn through instruction. They learn best through engaging their creativity, their will and their limitless imagination. Teaching to children’s developmental stages is essential for lifelong learning. Just because a bright child can learn to read at four, does not mean he should spend all his time with the uninspiring content of early reader books. We believe it is better to develop this child’s imagination and listening skills by listening to stories of fairy tales, which he can then act out later with his friends in imaginative games. The real risk of rushed academic instruction is the loss of curiosity and a child’s innate love of learning.

By letting our children be children and letting them play, imagine and create at The Kindergarten, we have given them the most important building blocks in fostering a lifelong love for learning.

Play is the highest form of research -N.V. Scarfe