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This blog was originally published on May 7, 2012

Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

We often say that young children learn through play. We say that play is children’s work. What does research tell us young children gain through play? A recent article in Psychology Today and results of a 15-year longitudinal study, published in Family Science, provide some answers.

As the Psychology Today article notes, there is more to play than swings, jungle gyms and games of tag on the recess playground. Imaginative play – make-believe and pretend – is important for young children’s healthy development.

“Over the last 75 years a number of theorists and researchers have identified the values of such imaginative play as a vital component to the normal development of a child,” Psychology Today reports. “Systematic research has increasingly demonstrated a series of clear benefits of children’s engagement in pretend games from the ages of about 2½ through ages 6 or 7.Actual studies have demonstrated cognitive benefits such as increases in language usage including subjunctives, future tenses, and adjectives. The important concept of ‘theory of mind,’ an awareness that one’s thoughts may differ from those of other persons and that there are a variety of perspectives of which each of us is capable, is closely related to imaginative play…. Pretend play allows the expression of both positive and negative feelings, and the modulation of affect, the ability to integrate emotion with cognition.”

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This blog was originally published on December 11, 2012

Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

An old adage warns that there are two things one should never witness being made: sausage and legislation. In a recent radio story on This American Life, producer Alex Blumberg ignores this advice and provides a fascinating look at how Oklahoma in 1998 became the nation’s first state to have universal, publicly funded pre-kindergarten. The state legislature changed its school funding formula to include pre-kindergarten. Today, Blumberg reports, 75% of Oklahoma’s 4-year-olds attend publicly funded pre-kindergarten.

Did proponents of high-quality early education march out the evidence, launch a large grass-roots campaign, line up business leaders for the bully pulpit, and persuade a forward-thinking legislature to spend millions of dollars to adopt a proven strategy that would more than pay back the initial investment?

No. The change was hidden in an amendment to a bill on a related issue. A loophole in Oklahoma law had allowed school districts to pad their kindergartens with 4-year-olds as a way to collect large amounts of extra funding. A bill to close the loophole contained an amendment expanding the school funding formula to include pre-kindergarten. The bill’s sponsor talked up fixing the loophole, but remained silent on the seemingly obscure amendment. Thus, the loophole was erased, and preschool became part of the school funding formula. Listen to This American Life: PK-O for more on this stealth operation.

As Blumberg reports, schools immediately noticed an improvement in children’s school readiness, and research from Oklahoma joins other evidence of the benefits of high-quality early education.

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