September 15, 2010

Hands-On Teachers Best for Pre-K Kids

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Most 4-year-olds would prefer play over instruction. However, a new study shows Pre-K kids who spend less time engaged in "free-choice play" and more time in guided instruction with their teachers make greater gains in language and math skills.

Researchers studied 2,700 children enrolled in public pre-kindergarten programs in 11 states across the U.S. They divided the students into three categories: those who spent most of their time freely choosing from educational materials to play with; those who spent most of their time learning individually through teacher-directed activities; and those who spent most of their time in small- and whole-group instructional activities.

Results showed children who were engaged in free-choice play made smaller gains in language and math compared to the other kids. More than half of the children in the study had the free-choice play model as their primary pattern of activities. The researchers also found low-income children particularly benefitted from individual instruction.

"If early childhood education is to level the playing field by stimulating children's academic development, more quality instructional time spent with teachers and less free play time without teacher guidance may prepare children better for starting kindergarten," Nina C. Chien, lead study author, from the University of California at San Diego, was quoted as saying. "Our work has implications for policy and practice."

SOURCE: Child Development, September/October 2010 issue