The Importance of Play

A couple of articles from the National Association for the Education of Young Children emphasize the importance of play in learning, from the notion of “guided play” to pointers on the kinds of play conducive to learning in toddlers.








The Case of Brain Science and Guided Play: A Developing Story by Brenna Hassinger-Das, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff

How to Support Children’s Approaches to Learning? Play with Them! by Gaye Gronlund

“School Diversity Benefits All Children—and Parents” by Khin Mai Aung

In this opinion piece in the Gotham Gazette, Khin Mai Aung, director of English Language Learner Civil Rights & Policy in the New York State Education Department—and, perhaps more importantly, a parent writes about the benefits and challenges of being part of racially and economically diverse preschool, the Helen Owen Carey Child Development Center in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It’s a school not so different from Hilltop.

Aung writes:

Exposure to classmates from a wide range of racial and economic backgrounds is important. Young children need precisely this type of exposure, even if the process by which they come to understand it can be messy.

She goes on to describe her experience as a parent within the diverse preschool community.

Community building is tough, especially within diverse communities, even when this very diversity is what drew you into that community in the first place… Learning about other parents’ experiences and the challenges they may face has expanded both my sense of the privilege I enjoy, as well as my broader understanding of educational equity.

For the full story, click here.

Mayor Bill deBlasio on a school visit

“Born to Learn” by

“Born to Learn” animations illustrate ground-breaking new discoveries about how humans learn. This video is the first in a series and it highlights the importance of play.

For more info and additional videos, visit

Born to Learn animation

“The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids,” by Erika Christakis

“It can be hard to appreciate just how much the early-education landscape has been transformed over the past two decades,” writes Erika Christakis, an early childhood educator at the Yale Child Study Center, in a recent piece in the Atlantic. She then details the shift to an ever-more academic approach in many preschools across the U.S.–and her concern that maybe educators are missing the point.

The shift from an active and exploratory early-childhood pedagogy to a more scripted and instruction-based model does not involve a simple trade-off between play and work, or between joy and achievement. On the contrary, the preoccupation with accountability has led to a set of measures that favor shallow mimicry and recall behaviors, such as learning vocabulary lists and recognizing shapes and colors (something that a dog can do, by the way, but that is in fact an extraordinarily low bar for most curious 4-year-olds), while devaluing complex, integrative, and syncretic learning.

For Christakis, it’s really about the teacher-child interaction.

For the full story, click here.

Christakis is the author of the forthcoming book, The Importance of Being Little. (February 2016)

The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids


“Study finds improved self-regulation in kindergartners who wait a year to enroll” by Mae Wong

If you’ve ever wondered about the right age for your child to start kindergarten, a new study out of Stanford suggests that later may be better.

Researchers found significant mental health benefits for the kids who start formal schooling slightly later. And one of the keys to their success is access to high-quality, play-based preschools beforehand. The extra year of play is key.

“The study’s findings also align with other research that has shown an extended period of early childhood play—such as in preschools—yields mental health developmental gains.

As a result, Dee said he hopes his research will lead to broader examinations on how kindergarten is taught. It could be pedagogy pointed more toward play rather than structured academics.”

Read the whole story here.Stanford Graduate School of Education article

“Dear Mountain Room Parents” by Maria Semple

Here’s an oldie-but-goodie, tongue-in-cheek essay from The New Yorker. It’s a send-up of a preschool teacher trying to throw a Day of the Dead party and the email back-and-forth that ensues, for example:


Some of you have expressed concern about your children celebrating a holiday with the word “dead” in it. I asked Eleanor’s mom, who’s a pediatrician, and here’s what she said: “Preschoolers tend to see death as temporary and reversible. Therefore, I see nothing traumatic about the Day of the Dead.” I hope this helps.


Dear Parents:

In response to the e-mail we all received from Maddie’s parents, in which they shared their decision to raise their daughter dogma-free, yes, there will be an altar, but please be assured that the Day of the Dead is a pagan celebration of life and has nothing to do with God. Keep those photos coming!



Perhaps “pagan” was a poor word choice. I feel like we’re veering a bit off track, so here’s what I’ll do. I’ll start setting up our altar now, so that today at pickup you can see for yourselves how colorful and harmless the Day of the Dead truly is.


Aubrey Cohen, writing on the Seattle Post Intelligencer website, says, “It’s funny cause it’s true.”

Read the whole thing here.
New Yorker article "Dear Mountain Room Parents"

“Poignant moments unfold at a preschool in a retirement home,” by Daphne Sashin

What do toddlers and seniors have to teach each other? As it turns out, a lot.

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A recent CNN story features the Intergenerational Learning Center (ILC) in Seattle, where, “preschool children interact with retirement home residents on a daily basis. They sing, dance, make art, read stories together and just visit.” And the interactions benefit seniors and toddlers, alike.

Filmmaker Evan Briggs spent the 2012-13 school year filming at the ILC three days a week, and the result is the forthcoming documentary, “Present Perfect.”

For Briggs, the film is an opportunity for us to reconsider how we treat and value our seniors. “I’m optimistic about the possibilities for changing the way we think about aging,” she told Rebekah Lowin, of Today.

At Hilltop, we’ve long believed in the benefits of bringing together children and the elderly, which we do as part of the school’s commitment to visit Garden Crest regularly.

See the trailer and learn more about the film, here. Read the full CNN article, here.

“New Tactics for Battling Head Lice,” by Jane E. Brody

Did you know that dealing with head lice is a $1 billion industry? So says The New York Times, in its dispatch on the latest lice advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Some key takeaways?

  • Daily bathing is not an effective preventive.
  • While it is certainly easier to detect and treat lice when hair is short, the length of one’s hair and how often it is brushed or washed has little effect on the risk of an infestation.
  • Pets play no role in spreading them from person to person.
  • “Never initiate treatment unless there is a clear diagnosis with living lice.”
  • Effective over-the-counter remedies listed by the academy include a cream rinse called Nix.
  • Among prescription remedies, the newest, called Sklice … requires only one application.
  • Another recent prescription treatment, Natroba … kills both live lice and unhatched eggs,
  • Whichever product you may use, first check the age for which it is safe, and never exceed the amount recommended.

Click here for the full story:

New Tactics for Battling Head Lice



“The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues” by Valerie Strauss

Just in time for the back-to-school season, Valerie Strauss, who runs the Answer Sheet blog at The Washington Post, shared a post by Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, where she makes yet another strong case for a play-based preschool curriculum.

In fact, it is before the age of 7 years — ages traditionally known as “pre-academic” — when children desperately need to have a multitude of whole-body sensory experiences on a daily basis in order to develop strong bodies and minds. This is best done outside where the senses are fully ignited and young bodies are challenged by the uneven and unpredictable, ever-changing terrain.

Yay for play!

For the full article, click here.

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“Let the Kids Learn Through Play” by David Kohn

Here’s another recent New York Times op-ed in favor of a play-based curriculum such as the one we have here at Hilltop.

“Play is often perceived as immature behavior that doesn’t achieve anything,” says David Whitebread, a psychologist at Cambridge University who has studied the topic for decades. “But it’s essential to their development. They need to learn to persevere, to control attention, to control emotions. Kids learn these things through playing.”

The article is also critical toward overly academic teaching in kindergarten.

“Reading, in particular, can’t be rushed. It has been around for only about 6,000 years, so the ability to transform marks on paper into complex meaning is not pre-wired into the brain. It doesn’t develop “naturally,” as do other complex skills such as walking; it can be fostered, but not forced.”

For the full article, click here.

Let the Kids Learn Through Play - NYT