With the advent of Playworks’ 20th Anniversary and our aim of reaching 3.5 million kids in 7,000 schools by 2020, I've launched a new blog that I am calling "Bringing out the Best." I welcome your ideas and suggestions for stories!
When you ask Dr. Terrie Rose about play and its role in the development of young children, she hesitates a little before answering. The problem, she explains, is that she finds it hard to talk about ‘play’ for young children as somehow distinct from their very being. For young children, Terrie insists, play is being.
Terrie Rose is a leader in the field of early childhood development and emotional readiness. She is an author, speaker, trainer, and the developer of curriculum for infants and toddlers that supports emotional readiness and well-being. I first met Terrie in conjunction with her work as the founder of Baby’s Space, an organization committed to building child development programming from the perspective of the baby.
Early experiences form brain architecture. Young children need consistent, caring adults in order to learn build attachments, to ask for help, and to feel safe enough to take risks. They learn by exploring their surroundings through their senses and discover new interests through sight, sound, touch, taste, and touch, rather than by being required to perform specific tasks. Baby’s Space is built around these fundamental needs.
While that seems like a pretty obvious approach, what makes Terrie’s work so important is how rarely childcare environments actually meet children’s needs, especially for the most vulnerable children. Education is an adult driven system, often designed first for institutional needs, like convenience and efficiency, and for children’s needs second. Since leaving Baby’s Space, Terrie has been helping grown-ups shift their mindsets to find themselves in spaces from the child’s perspective.
The needs of young children are needs we all share, and in listening to Terrie describe her work, it’s easy to hope that the lessons of early childhood will spill over into education for older students.
Unfortunately, the influence more frequently flows in the other direction. From re-labeling less-structured time from ‘free-play’ to ‘workstations’, to a growing emphasis on executive functioning in early childhood, Terrie points to the myriad ways in which, as she puts it, “we’re doing it all wrong for the best of reasons.” In an attempt to get people to value early childhood education, it’s as though we’ve lost sight of the value that relationship building and discovery have in their own right.
Thankfully, Terrie’s work, and especially her book, Emotional Readiness, is helping educators realize that the patterns of how we interact are set early. Creating opportunities for both young children and older children to experience how to be through play represents a tremendous opportunity to build educational systems in which the needs of children, not adults, are at the center of the work.