Kindergarten playing is more than meets the eye<br>

Posted on Sunday, May 19th, 2002

Gwenne Culpepper, University Marketing & Public Relations, (319) 273-2761

(Part of the EducatioNet series from the University of Northern Iowa)

At first glance, the average kindergarten classroom may appear to be little more than a large play area --.the ultimate dream for a 5-year-old. Children busy themselves with blocks, books, crayons, miniature kitchen set-ups and the requisite construction paper. There are few structured activities and children are allowed to work with sand, water and even mud. Fun at every turn.

But what, if anything, do children gain from all this playing?

What they gain, says Jill Uhlenberg, is a priceless learning experience. Uhlenberg is an instructor and coordinator of the University of Northern Iowa's Price Laboratory School Child Development Center. A strong proponent of play-based learning, Uhlenberg says children in kindergarten classes can learn socialization, sequence language development, and even mathematical concepts through play.

For instance, art projects like coloring, painting and drawing teach children to manipulate materials, to recognize shapes and colors, and to write. Putting on puppet shows teaches them character analyzation. Working with blocks can help teach children subtraction, addition, trial and error, and decision making.

Although some may advocate a stricter 'reading, writing and arithmetic' sort of curriculum, Uhlenberg disagrees, primarily because 5-year-olds are typically not suited for more structured activities.

'They have a very hard time sitting down for long periods of time, waiting in lines, things like that,' says Uhlenberg. 'It's very challenging for them. Their bodies very much need to be moving. At that age, they learn more from the hands-on experience than they do from sitting and listening. A couple years later, they won't have a problem with that, but at this age, they need something concrete.'

She believes kindergartners' basics should consist of things such as social problem solving, organization, and functioning in a group, all of which can be learned very well through play-based activities. Those skills lead directly to others which will help students as they progress through the grade levels. Uhlenberg says when children complete kindergarten, they should be able to:

* Communicate ideas and feelings

* Manage themselves and their bodies (sitting next to someone)

* Recognize the teacher as the leader in the classroom

* Wait for their turn in specific activities

* Respect others' turn to communicate

'These things are so important,' says Uhlenberg. 'If a child can do those, so much of the content can be more easily learned, just because the child can pay attention. If you can't do that, it's difficult for the content to get there and make sense.'