These days some children are sent
to 'school' from the time they are 12-14 months old. This is a new trend
and parents of the old school often wonder what these 'babies' could possibly
learn when they have just begun to walk and talk. Many parents feel that
they turned out quite all right without having attended any play school.
Other skeptical parents believe that this is just another gimmicky idea
that will only put further pressure on today's children. While it is true
that children today face tremendous academic pressure, skeptics will be
pleasantly surprised to learn that the concept of a play school has nothing
to do with academics at all.
What is a play school
What is the concept of a play school? A play school is a place where around 10-20 children spend 1-2 hours each day under the supervision of a couple of teachers. "The supervisor-child ratio should ideally be around 1:10" says Dr. Sushma Mehrotra, an experienced child psychologist.
She believes that play schools have
a lot to offer, and that the play schools should not be aimed at developing
academic skills like reading and writing. She also says there should be
no set goals or any stress on performance; the focus should be on the sensory-motor
development and the social development of the child. She is very much an
advocate of play schools since they develop age-appropriate behaviour at
the right time.
How do play schools operate
How do play schools go about achieving this goal? Dr. Mehrotra spoke of a play school in Pune that even helped mothers toilet-train their children. She said, "Every child brought its potty to school and was trained by the supervisors to use it. At this stage, children learn best by observation. At home, this kind of learning is not at an optimum level. In a play school the supervisors focus on teaching children the age-appropriate behaviours through observation and imitation."
Anupama Sen has just started taking
her one-year old daughter to a play school. She says," The school has a
language and listening room, a motor skills room and a drama and theatre
room. In the motor skills room for instance, children are made to pour
water from one tumbler into another and then repeat this exercise using
a funnel. Another activity is 'fishing'. Here, children are given magnetic
rods using which they 'fish' for cardboard fish with metal tags. In the
drama and theatre room, nursery rhymes are enacted and the children participate
in role-play exercises."
Benefits of play school: Learning
Most parents give their children plenty of attention in terms of looking after their basic needs and showering them with toys to entertain them. In play schools, however, children are provided with the 'right' toys, i.e. those appropriate to their stage of development. Also, their play is guided so that it becomes a learning experience. The ideas is that children should transfer play behaviours such as feeding a doll, changing its clothes, etc. to themselves, and thus develop self-help skills. The thinking is that if a child can go through the motions of feeding a doll, it will soon learn to feed itself.
Play schools also teach children
to recognize their own possessions. Soon a child will learn to identify
his schoolbag, learn the mealtime routine that involves opening a lunchbox,
folding a napkin and putting everything back after the meal is over and
so on. Now this may not seem like a great achievement, but by the standards
of toddler behaviour, it is. Children are not born with these skills, they
have to develop them. And this is where the play school steps in to help
parents out. Another advantage Dr. Mehrotra pointed out is that a child's
language skills develop faster as they interact with many children of their
own age and a little older.
Benefits of play school: Free Play
Lata Gupta enrolled her 1year and ten-month-old daughter in a play school for about six months. She described the school as an open room full of toys and with two supervisors. "Initially, the mothers were allowed to sit inside, but we were advised that if we had a good maid, it would be good enough if she waited outside. The children are not forced to do anything. They can play with any of the toys as they wish. For instance, if they are playing with a train, the teachers will sing a song about a train with actions."
When asked if she felt that her daughter
had benefited from the experience she said, "I think play school definitely
helped my daughter. She became used to the idea of being away from home
for a couple of hours a day. She became more talkative and started interacting
much more. Initially, when I used to play nursery rhymes for her she would
ask me to switch it off. She preferred Hindi film music. Now, she enjoys
listening to cassettes of nursery rhymes because they are familiar to her."
Benefits of play school: Reduces Separation Anxiety
Play schools prepare children for
their entry into formal school. The first day of school can be quite traumatic
for a child. Suddenly, he is thrust into a strange world from the warm
cocoon that is home. At the age of three or four when the child goes to
school for the first time, a lot is expected of him. Bawling children,
clinging to their parents on the first day of school is a common sight.
In Dr. Mehrotra's opinion, play school helps minimize separation anxiety.
She feels that play schools prepare children to face the world, as they
are more self-confident and independent, they have improved interpersonal
skills and better vocabulary.
Benefits of play school: Meeting other Parents
Children are not the only ones who
benefit from play schools. They provide parents with an external support
system in terms of enhancing the child's developmental skills. In addition,
parents get an opportunity to interact with other parents and keep in touch
with different approaches to parenting. Parents also have a chance to observe
other children and thus have a point of reference for judging their own
child's behaviour. Parents can approach the trained supervisors for advice
if they are facing any problems with their child at home. In other words,
play schools widen parenting horizons.
Are play schools a necessity?
Many parents feel that all these
skills will develop in their children any way, maybe not as quickly as
with play school experience, but then what's the hurry? Sonea Vasunia did
not feel the need to put either of her daughters into a play school. She
says, "I think play schools are just money-making schemes that are convenient
places for working mothers to keep their children for a few hours a day.
I feel that children are under so much pressure today that there is no
need to channelize even their free time." She feels that they should be
allowed to enjoy their time the way that they like. In her opinion, if
a mother is a housewife and spends enough time with her children, there
is no need for a play school. What about separation anxiety? Mrs. Vasunia
feels that this can easily be overcome if mothers were permitted to sit
in the classrooms for the first few days of nursery school just to ease
their children into the school routine.
A Word of Caution
Dr. Mehrotra advises all parents to check that the person running the play school is qualified and trained in the field of child development. Children have to be treated with care at this tender age. According to Dr. Mehrotra, "An unskilled person will not be aware of the developmental stages of a child. Different skills develop at different times. An untrained person will not know what to expect from a child at a certain age and may attempt to push the child beyond what he or she is capable of. This could have an adverse effect on the development of the child." So parents beware of individuals who open supposed play schools that are nothing more than glorified day care centres.
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