Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Symbolic Mastery

Silas attends our local Kindergarten and Preschool. He goes 2 days then 3days per week and he LOVES it! Here in QLD we also call it Pre-Prep. Everything is play based learning.

In the monthly newsletter that was sent home there was a little blurb on Symbolic Mastery. Surprisingly google came up with a lot of 'buy this book' references, but I managed to find the following from Julia Gabriel, I've never come across her work before.......

How do children learn? How do they grasp entire language systems, codes of
communication, symbolic thinking, and mastery of the skills they need to read and write?
The answer is so simple that it’s sometimes too difficult to grasp. They learn through play!

How do children learn? How do they grasp entire language systems, codes of
communication, symbolic thinking, and mastery of the skills they need to read and write?
The answer is so simple that it’s sometimes too difficult to grasp. They learn through play!
How can that be? Well, babies learn through play. Do you remember those first games that
they played intuitively with us, the first pretend games of peek-a-boo? The elaborate,
imaginative play of 3 and 4 year olds grows out of this. The give and take of conversation
grows out of a baby’s first playful smiles and our response to them. The manipulation and
solving of puzzles grows out of a baby’s first reaching and grasping of objects we use in
play with him. If we play with our babies in a loving, nurturing, joyful way, they learn to grow
up trusting in people, forming solid relationships with those around them. Knowledge of the
world grows out of a baby’s early play.
When the two-year old begins make-believe play, it contributes to the goals of early
education. Let’s examine these.
Representational Thought
Through imaginary play the child practices many different ways of representing reality, by
creating symbols. He’ll make homes, farms, animals, people, food, or an outing to the zoo
with paint, blocks, play-dough and sand, or by dressing up. His creations are symbols of
representational thought. Symbols are things that represent something else - an object,
idea or event. What’s important is that all later education is based on the assumption that a
child has symbolic competence. Literacy and numeracy are about understanding symbols.
So, it’s crucial to pay attention to this symbolic mastery in the pre-school years. Symbolic
mastery is gained and practiced through involvement in a wide variety of play activities.
Conceptual Thought
Children at play are young scientists and mathematicians. They’re exploring the boundaries
of their worlds, asking what happens if I mix mud with water, red with blue, blue with
yellow? When a child plays with sand and a bucket, or water and jugs, he is laying the
foundations of mathematical understanding. It’s only through experience that he will come
to understand concepts like greater than, smaller than, density, gravity, weight, size and
conservation of liquids. It is only through play that he will gain this concrete experience and
Language and Communication Skills
During play, children’s language is more complex than in most other activities. They’re
practising using the adult language they’ve heard, by using it in role-play. A child “playing”
at being the teacher, mother or father, will recreate the language patterns she’s overheard,
using correct grammar and a wide range of advanced communication skills. I remember my
surprise on first hearing my own words, expression and mannerisms coming out of my two year
old daughter Emma!
Early childhood literacy foundations are primarily about talking and playing with words and
language. These natural forms of learning and development come before reading and
writing or exposure to print.
Physical Development
Children at play are exercising their bodies and mastering physical coordination in the most
natural way. Rhyme games for clapping, jumping, crawling, miming daily activities and
“freezing” the movement are excellent ways to help your child develop mastery of gross and
fine motor skills. He’ll need these for later literacy. A child who can’t sit at a table and cut,
can’t learn to write, so it’s not only fun, but also beneficial, to enjoy cutting and making a
collage together at home.
Social and Emotional Development
Through play, children learn to work cooperatively, solve problems collaboratively and how
to win friends. Social rules are absorbed naturally by observation and practiced through
play. Play can help young children deal with things they can’t put into words: Distress at
Daddy going away, fear of monsters or the dark or going to school. Tension, fear and
anxiety can be acted out in play, and it can be re-played again and again while the child
gradually comes to grasp, understand and master his emotions.
Yet, pressures from society and expectations of formal education encourage us to view with
suspicion an early childhood education based on play. It’s easier for the non-professional to
see the value of the formal approach to learning rather than one with play at its centre. But,
structured activities that are heavily adult directed, such as work sheets and drills, are de-motivating and not the most effective way for pre-school children to learn and develop.
They won’t give children the skills they need to be able to adapt to the pace of change and
demands of the future.
Today’s children are preparing to enter a competitive, turbulent world of rapid change.
What are the skills they need?
· versatility and flexibility
· imagination and creativity
· self - motivation, so they’re able to make their own choice and act on them
· social skills, which enable understanding of self and collaboration with others
· courage and confidence, so they’re able to learn from their mistakes and try again
I believe that helping children to develop these qualities is the education, and that play is
the perfect context for mastering these life skills. What’s the best environment to nurture
them in? At home, within the family. I encourage all families to play hard at their homework,
and enjoy it together!
Julia Gabriel


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