A Play Based Curriculum Education Essay

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Abstract

Parents select the type of school and curriculum they want for their children. There are numerous factors influencing parents' choice of school, but practicality, location, affordability, and previous experience with the school are some of their most important considerations. Knowledge and understanding of the different components of the early childhood curricula is a necessity, but such is still dependent on many factors influencing parents' choice.

We know from the literature (Brain & Klein, 1994; Reay & Lucey, 2000) that parents enrolling their children in an early childhood education program that implements a play-based curriculum may have done so only because the school has met their expectations in some way, and not because they are aware of the benefits of the play-based program. Nevertheless, what we don't know is if parents would only understand and appreciate the curriculum, would they have made another choice, would they be more involved and have realistic expectations of their child's learning opportunities?

This study explores the beliefs and attitudes of parents regarding the play-based curriculum. Using qualitative methods, I aim to gather information in narrative form on parents' beliefs and attitudes regarding play-based curriculum The analysis of the data will be based on the narrative responses of the parents, and focus on commonalities, differences, and emergent themes.

Chapter 1: Introduction

"I just want my child to have fun!" is a comment I hear regularly from parents touring my preschool. But the magic of fun somehow disappears as children reach the age of three or four, and when they start to prepare for "real school." Standards, standardized tests, honors, grades etc., soon become parents' greatest concerns. Somewhere along the line, the fun comment is replaced with questions pertaining to kindergarten readiness and requests for worksheets, homework and some sort of "grade".

As a preschool owner/educator, I remember so vividly the day I decided to leave an incredible 13-year career as a public school teacher in one of Ohio's wealthiest school districts to own and run my own preschool. This was not an easy decision, because I love teaching; leaving the classroom was one of the hardest professional decisions I have ever made. However, the standards and standardized testing that were dictating our curriculum practices were in complete conflict with my beliefs. Fortunately, I had options and decided to stay in education by moving to younger ages, which at the time, seemed exempt from the overt pressure of standardized testing. I envisioned a facility that embraced play as the primary learning philosophy - one that valued child interests and focus groups, one that integrated multicultural facets.

I could not be more pleased with my decision to walk away from an amazing retirement, decent salary, and summers off with my own children to offer my ideals to other young learners. Little did I realize that the same nightmares that plagued me previously would continue to haunt me at my preschool. Although research on play and cognitive development provide a lot of support for the play-based curriculum for our young children, the recent state and national emphasis on proficiency test performance has reinforced the concept of minimal play time, even in the primary setting. Many preschools and elementary schools have reduced or even eliminated play from their schedules ( Bodrova & Leong, 2003; Brandon, 2002; Johnson, 1998; Murline, 2000; Vail 2003). Play, even the small segments, are being replaced with academic readiness practices, particularly literacy and reading to match the content of standardized testing (Brandon, 2002; Fromberg, 1990; Johnson, 1998; Steinhauer, 2005; Vail, 2003).

The constant struggle for accountability, as well as "top-down standards and coercive pressure to raise scores on an endless series of standardized test"- (Kohn, 2004, p.572), in addition to the battle of improving education, all seem to be dictating current educational trends. Even if a program embraces the importance of play, the outer forces that continue to press for academics is constantly threatening the foundation from which our young children build their educational future. "We strip them of their best innate confidence in directing their own learning, hurry them along, and often wear them out." (Almon, 2003, p.20). This push for a more academic foundation in the early years may find us losing sight of the real purpose of learning. If we continue down this path of creating a test-prep curriculum in which our emphasis is on how the child scores on a reading test rather than on allowing children to read for pleasure and information after leaving school, we might generate quite the opposite effect and negatively impact cognitive development.

Nevertheless, the global challenge that the Information Age has imposed on us has likewise prompted education officials to redefine school achievement. The government's move to establish educational standards through the (No Child Left Behind Act) NCLB was based on the decline of education standards since the start of the 70s (Peterson, 2003). At present, most schools implement standard-based curricula, formal evaluation methods, and numerical grading system in response to the call for a wider educational transformation. Suffice to mention, the U.S. ranks only 19th in the Literacy Index established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (2007). Such data support the current trend in education, and imply the need of preschool educators to respond accordingly. In this consideration, it is worthwhile to weigh what we know about the significance of play-based curriculum as it contradicts with what officials in Higher Education promote, the standard-based curriculum. With the help of parents who themselves have witnessed the relevance of play-based curriculum to the current education system and to the broader aspects of their children's lives, this study shall gain novel findings on how parents understand the play-based curriculum. Knowing how parents understand play-based curriculum is important, it will provide insight into what information parents draw upon in making early educational decisions for their children. .

Since parents are the ones who decide where to enroll their children, it would be best to learn how they feel towards play-based curriculum. To secure a well-informed research finding, during this study I will focus on interviews, observations and documents/documentation, with parents whose children are currently enrolled in a play-based curriculum. I plan to interview five parents; conducting three interviews: a Life History interview , a Current Context interview that includes a summary of their present situation, and a Follow up interview. In addition to the three interviews, observations will be conducted and artifacts will be collected to enhance the data collection.

I currently own and operate a preschool situated in a Northeastern Ohio suburb. The demographics surrounding my school consist of upper middle class, educated, two-parent households. In the recent past, we were operating with 248 Caucasian families but have noticed a cultural trend changing our school's population: we now house six native Asian families, eight native Indian families, three African-American families, and two biracial families out of a total of 257 families. This trend, I believe, is due to a new 30-acre hospital facility opening across the street. This study will take place in a similar preschool. The commercial brand preschool (pseudonym) has similar demographics and utilizes a play-based curriculum.

As I tour families, I am always assured that parents want the best for their children. The decision to leave a young child to a non-family member is difficult but common, and it is what brought me to this point in my life: a 43 year-old mother of two daughters, ages 10 and 13, pursuing a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction with an early childhood focus.

A very attractive, well-dressed woman in her mid-thirties, entered my school foyer holding an expensive handbag, and armed with a list of questions, began her quest for the perfect childcare provider. This well-spoken mom has a two-year-old son and an infant daughter. She, an attorney and her husband, a resident doctor, just moved to our community from Washington, DC. My tour involves a short introduction of myself and my background, as well as the school's. I always include a short description of our philosophy, which includes play, a tour of the facility, an introduction to all teachers, and, finally, a meeting in my office where we address all questions on their list. Such a list typically includes: safety and security, ratios, sick policy, discipline policy, sanitation procedures, lunch and snack, tuition, etc. In this instance, curriculum was never mentioned, even after I spoke of our play-based philosophy, our Flex Learning Program, etc. Such things did not seem important to this mom. She asked about teacher turnover, how many infants were currently enrolled, how many teachers were in the classroom, and if her baby would be rocked to sleep. She asked if her young toddler would visit the gym, which is located in the older building; if he would go outside every day; and if he could participate in karate and soccer. Literature supporting everything discussed during the tour, including curriculum issues, was handed to her, as well as a business card with the web address for any additional information.

This is very much a typical tour. The mother called later to announce that her decision was complete and her children would be starting the next Monday. That was two years ago. Her children still attend my school full time, now ages three and five. Both kids are in the West facility that houses older children: older Preschool, Pre K, Jr-K, K, and after school classrooms/program. Her children are thriving academically and socially. Yet, two years later, her concern shifted to academic readiness. She made an appointment with me to review the Ohio Pre K standards which she received from her neighbor. Our hour-and-half hour meeting consisted of examples of just how these standards are being implemented, met, and mastered without the use of paper/pencil, drill, skill worksheets, and assessment tools. Although our philosophy has not changed, nor has her desire for her children to have fun, the fear of success in school has crept into this mom's thinking. Walking through her son's and daughter's classrooms daily and observing kids building blocks, doing dramatic play, using sand and water, and working at art stations, reassures her that the kids are indeed having fun, but what are they learning? How can she be sure they will be prepared for "school?"

This has me posing several opposing questions. What are parents' beliefs

and attitudes towards an early childhood play-based curriculum, and has their beliefs and attitudes changed since entering the play-based program? What evidence can I offer parents that play-based curriculum is an appropriate curriculum for primary school readiness? How do I advocate for preschoolers as a time in life to cherish play as a basis for holistic development and learning?

It is my desire, as a strong advocate of play for small children, to better understand where parents are coming from, how they are informed, and what they draw upon to make their final conclusions. Therefore, in my study, I will inquire from parents their beliefs and attitude about play-based curriculum in the hope of better understanding where parents are coming from. This information will better inform teachers in their parent education practices as well as parents in their search for a preschool.

About Early Childhood Education Programs

Early childhood education programs provide foundational learning experiences to very young children in preparation for formal schooling. Early childhood education programs strive to provide children with the basic skills in literacy and numeracy, which are crucial for all levels of education, while, at the same time, providing the social, emotional, and cultural interaction that children need for maturity and social development. There is a wide variation in child care programs in the United States ranging from basic care-based, and sometimes simply custodial-based care to nationally accredited early childhood programs such as those promoted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). A number of early childhood education models are in place: Montessori, Reggio-Emilia, Waldorf, Play-Based, and Academics-Based, each having a different philosophy and educational objective, but all striving to contribute to the readiness of children for formal instruction (Singer, Singer, Plaskon, & Schweder, 2003).

Theoretical Frameworks

Earlier theories on child development do not directly specify play as an essential aspect of cognitive development yet constructivist theories recognize it as an important factor affecting children's interest and social development. In addition, neuroscience contributes to the view that physical and age-related play enhances brain, physical, and overall development (Frost 1998).

The social constructivist theory is the force that determines this study. It claims that individuals' perceptions of the "reality" around them shape their thoughts and behavior (Berger & Luckman, 1966) and that the construction of meaning is a process "forged in the crucible of everyday interaction…meanings are negotiated, exchanged, and modified through everyday interactions with others" (Rosenholtz, 1989, p. 3). It also says that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world through experiencing and reflecting upon those experiences.

Constructivism posits that children develop their own concepts of things based on prior knowledge and experience. Guided by people, prior knowledge or experience, they perceive, analyze, and eventually make up their own ideas regarding the world. Therefore, prior skills used at play may be applied relevantly to other situations, such as problem solving, analysis, or decision-making. This makes play an important part of children's life, as it serves as the introduction to higher skills and more difficult challenges of life.

In particular, Lev Vygotsky (cited in Palmer, 2004), a well-known constructivist supports the importance of play in the child's development. In his last lecture, "Play and the Psychological Development of the Child, Vygotsky emphasized the importance of play during the child's early years. According to him, play is part of a child's Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). ZPD is the difference between what a child can do and what s/he cannot. During play, the child behaves beyond his age, and discovers new ways of doing things such as different shapes and heights of blocks. As the child does this, s/he explores the depths of ZPD, which consequences to a better learning ability.

In the same way, neuroscience provides support for child's play. Frost (1998) documents that brain development is further improved as children engage in age-appropriate play. Conversely, he illustrates that deprivation of play could result in "aberrant behavior" (8). It can be gathered that in Vgotsky's social constructivist theory, parents form an understanding when it comes to identifying the "fit" academic environment for their child based on their expectations

Research Methodology Focus and Questions

Based on the goals of this study, the employment of methodology through the acquisition of narrative inquiry and the case study design are appropriate. Narrative case study will be used for this research project as it will allow me, the researcher, to witness and report a descriptive setting in order to share experiences

Case Study

This study adopts the case study design with the view that individual cases provide more in-depth information. Case studies focus on the individual, his/her experiences, and immediate reality, which is needed to derive meaning and understanding of the issue or concept under examination. Moreover, it provides real examples from real people who are unencumbered by the use of predetermined measures or surveys, and whose responses will only result in numbers and statistics (Bogdan & Biklen, 2007). In this study, individuals, the parents (either mother or father in one family) should have a child or children who are enrolled in a school that implements play-based curriculum. These individuals will be interviewed and asked to share their stories based on open-ended questions that correspond to the over-arching research questions. In doing so, the individuals' experiences and beliefs will be discussed in order to arrive at a better understanding of the research topic, which regards parents beliefs and attitudes of a play-based curriculum. It is expected that other factors such as race, religion, and socioeconomic status would influence the experiences and thoughts of parents. Thus, the parents selected for the study will come from different backgrounds. In addition to the three planned interviews, observations including parent/ teacher conferences, PTO meetings, various parent celebrations such as "A Day in the Life of PreSchooler", "Muffins With Mom", "(Root)Beer and Pretzels with Dad", Parents Night Out, Parents' Information Evening etc will be observed. Artifacts such as Parent Handbook, School's literature including the school's mission statement, student rights, student portfolio information will be submitted to supplement

Narrative Inquiry

For the purpose of this study I will also be drawing on narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000) to investigate five parents beliefs and attitudes towards a play -based early childhood curriculum within a privately owned early childhood facility. Coming from the social constructivist perspective, I believe that experiences are significant. Clandinin & Connelly also suggest experience is significant in their three dimensional framework for studying how the participants past, present and future contexts influence their beliefs and attitudes towards a play -based early childhood curriculum. Focusing on narrative inquiry will help me to underdtand how parents beliefs and attitudes towards a play-based early childhood curriculum have been established. This unique approach is attractive because it provides the opportunity for the parents' voices to be heard. In understanding their beliefs and attitudes of a play-based early childhood curriculum, narrative inquiry will allow me to explore how their beliefs and attitudes affect their decsion to enroll or not in enroll in a facility that promotes a play-based curriuculum and how these beliefs and attitudes have evolved, through the stories that they share.

This study will use the narrative in-depth interview as a qualitative data collection method, which can elicit far richer information than a survey. Further, interviews offer the researcher a means to clarify responses and validate participant responses. Cohen et al. (2000) posited that individual behaviors can only be understood by understanding individuals' interpretations of the world around them. Therefore, meaningful social action needs to be interpreted from the point of view of the actors or the people who are in that particular situation. It can be said that parents who have already enrolled their child in a play-based preschool would naturally feel more strongly about it than parents who have not sent their child to a play-based preschool (Bryman, 2004).

This qualitative case study will examine preschool parents' beliefs and attitudes using a narrative inquiry data-collection strategy in order to showcase the experiences and perceptions of parents towards play-based curricula in early childhood programs. Case study and narrative inquiry seek to understand the particular details in a historically and socially bounded context (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000).

Main Research Questions

The main research question for this study is "what are parents beliefs and attitudes towards an early childhood play-based curriculum?"

Supporting Research Questions

I have identified several supporting research questions to reflect upon throughout Clandinin and Connelly (2000) three-dimensional interviewing process. In looking forward/backward I am interested in understanding how individuals' life histories inform their current beliefs and attitudes towards play-based curriculums. In looking inward/outward I am interested in understanding what outside factors influence their current beliefs and attitudes towards play-based curriculums..

What are their beliefs on play?

What are parents' beliefs regarding developmentally appropriate practices?

What are parents' perceptions of early learning?

What evidence can I offer parents that play-based curriculum is an appropriate curriculum for primary school readiness?

How do I advocate for preschoolers as a time in life to cherish play as a basis for holistic development and learning?

. Children have different needs and the preschool program should be able to address those needs. From my experience, I have found that parents often choose preschools that are child-friendly; that is, they have passed safety standards, provide enough learning materials, employ qualified and caring teachers, and maintain an attractive facility. Rarely do parents ask about the school's curriculum or its academic offerings. In my experience, parents expect preschools to teach children basics like shapes, colors, alphabet, numbers, and reading. Most preschools integrate these basic skills into their learning programs, but each preschool differs in how the said skills are presented to the children for teaching purposes.

Exploring parents' beliefs and attitudes would help identify the relevance of play-based curriculum, whether it has helped facilitate their children's readiness and ability to learn and develop skills needed for the "real school" or for everyday living. Moreover, their responses will serve as valuable insights to educators in general, including those who are not implementing play.

Considering its focus, play-based curricula may be largely misperceived as not providing enough attention to skills and learning. Also, the current standard-based education being implemented, may consider play unimportant, thus curtail time for it or totally disregard it. Such would be deterrent to children whose basic needs include play and fun. In this view, the questions that I would like to expound on include: What are parents' beliefs and attitudes towards play-based curriculum? What factors led to the development of these beliefs and attitudes? How do/did play-based curriculum affect their children's learning and development? and How do parents' beliefs and attitudes regarding play impact the implementation of play-based curriculum and standard-based curriculum/formal instruction?

Purpose of the Study

I believe it is important for all parents to have a thorough understanding of the curriculum that their child will be experiencing, whether in preschool or in any other educational setting. Preschools enjoy a certain amount of flexibility in how they teach young children. Different teaching models are available, and some schools integrate two models (i.e, Montessori and Reggio Emilia). When parents know and understand the curriculum of their child's preschool, they are more likely to become involved in the school's activities. They then know how to reinforce their child's learning at home, and tend to collaborate more with teachers (Sission, 2009).

My quest to understand the beliefs and attitudes of five parents towards a play-based curriculum has multiple purposes. First, is to provide readers and the early childhood education sector with information concerning parental beliefs and attitudes towards play-based curriculum; second, to learn how, according to parents' views has play-based curriculum affected their children's learning and development; and third, to discern whether they believe it serves as an effective tool for early childhood education.

Statement of the Problem

Early childhood researchers have reported that young children learn best through activities that support the development of the whole child (Elkind 2001). David Elkind (2001), in a piece reminiscent of Piaget's constructivist views, entitled "Young Einstein: Much Too Early," argued that young children learn best through direct interaction with their environment. Before a certain age, they simply are not capable of the level of reasoning necessary for formal instruction. However, national concern with accountability, competition, testing and "back-to-basics," puts an over-emphasis on academics and single-subject teaching (Elkind, 2007; Ornstein, 2002; Perrone, 2000). In response to these concerns, early childhood programs may focus the curriculum on the teaching of academic skills (Morrison, 2004). These factors have led to narrowly-defined curricula, which deny young children valuable life experiences found in play. Although a growing concern on math and language ability in the higher year levels has prompted the implementation of standard-based curriculum, it is not enough to impose such kind of system in the preschool level. In the first place, children are a lot different from adults in their ways to learn. Unlike adults, children, especially small ones, need play (Ginsburg, 2007); they need to be interested in what they do in order to continue with it. Therefore, the need for play in the preschool should not be disregarded. Nevertheless, the significance of play in instruction should be supported by research and by parents' belief in the curriculum. Therefore, a study of the parents' beliefs and attitudes towards a play-based early childhood curriculum may provide information useful to teachers and administrators when planning strategies for implementing a successful preschool program.

Rationale

With the demand for effectiveness, test achievement scores, and accountability, many preschool programs have adopted and reinforced formal instruction, and have used play as a recreational period rather than a learning medium. In an Oregon state-wide survey sent to all kindergarten teachers and principals with first-grade teachers, Hitz and Wright (1998) found that sixty-four percent of kindergarten teachers, sixty-one percent of principals, and seventy-two percent of first-grade teachers reported that formal academic instruction was more prevalent in kindergarten than it was 10 to 20 years ago. In this scenario, creative expression may be considered not as important as cognitive development. Creativity may be viewed as irrelevant to the development of thinking and problem solving. Conversely, it is possible that teachers and administrators have adopted academic instruction and other formal practices, even though most of them considered such developmentally inappropriate. This last scenario implies the loss or lack of academic freedom among educators, thus contradicting democratic principles.

Early childhood educators have shown concern with the type of instruction used in their education programs. Practices used in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes reflected an environmentalist-behaviorist view, even though teachers reported having other views. From a study of teacher practice, Hatch and Freeman (1988) found that two-thirds of early childhood teachers were implementing programs in conflict with their philosophies concerning children's learning. Early childhood experts have long asserted that programs for young children should provide for the development of social, emotional, physical, cognitive, and creative skills, but the abovementioned findings do not reflect this anymore. In short, there is a gap between researchers' recommendations and teachers' practices (Bredekamp, 1997; Logue, Eheart, & Leavitt, 1996).

Parents are the deciding authority when it comes to the type of education that their children should receive. Their beliefs and attitudes towards a curriculum and later their decisions are typically influenced by their own beliefs, experiences, and attitudes. As a consequence, their views affect the implementation of programs for young children. This study does not confirm that parents' views regarding curriculum implementation are sufficient to implement a favorable program. Nevertheless, it considers their views because they form part of children's learning environment. It is important to gain their views about play-based education because aside from the teacher, they are the ones who have access to information regarding their children's development and ability whether in school or outside it.

Motivation

As an experienced primary educator, and a current preschool owner and educator, I am interested in parents' beliefs and attitudes towards an early childhood play-based curriculum and whether their decision to enroll their child in a play-based curriculum is borne out of their understanding of the program or other factors. I personally believe in the play-based curriculum and would like to determine if this attitude is shared by the parents. If they do not, I would like to know the basis for their dislike of the curriculum. Parents of my students are informed of our play-based curriculum at enrollment. Despite this, however, some still confront me with disbelief about the curriculum. As an educator and business owner, this study would lead me to a better understanding of parents' beliefs and attitudes about play as a vehicle for learning Understanding how parents understand play-based curriculum is significant and will add to the literature in many ways. In exploring how parents understand play-based curriculum this study will contribute to current literature available offering new ideas

Contributions to the Research

Children's play has come under renewed attack. Inspired by my own experiences as a preschool owner I hope to contribute through this narrative case study various lived stories of parents and how their beliefs and attitudes towards a play-based early childhood curriculum have evolved. Since parents are the "customers" of early childhood programs, is it important to understand their beliefs and attitudes.

While there is plenty of research supporting play-based curriculums in the early childhood classroom, it is mostly from the educators' and child's view point, literature is lacking in this area as it pertains to the parents, their own beliefs and attitudes. While not meant to portray generalized information the rich descriptive stories of these five parents will represent the larger community.

Outlook

In chapter two of this research proposal, Literature Review, I describe the context in which preschool programs, play-based curriculum, and parental choices have been studied in the past, and the implications of research findings to current practice. . The literature review is organized from the general to the specific, which means that a general overview of preschool programs is provided, followed by a discussion of the play-based curriculum, and concluding with parents choice.

. In chapter three, Methodology, I further describe the use of case study and the narrative inquiry approach to justify the use of such methods and design as proposed for this study. The chapter also provides the description of the research setting, the research sample, the data gathering procedure, data analysis, the timeline, and validity and reliability concerns, as well as the anticipated limitations of the study. The main research question as well as the supporting questions will be outlined in detail as well within the chapter three.

Chapter four, Findings, will draw on common themes that exist within the participants stories that describe their beliefs and attitudes towards an early childhood play-based curriculum. The implications this research has on informing the preschool community will be found within chapter five, the final chapter, Discussions and Implications.

Keywords

Preschool Programs: refers to the pre-kindergarten programs that are geared towards preparing children ages 2-5 years old for kindergarten. The programs offer various services for different age groups and adopt different curriculum models. In this study, preschool programs refer to the setting and object of the research work.

Curriculum Models: refers to an educational system that combines theory with practice. A curriculum model has a theory and knowledge base that reflects a philosophical orientation and is supported, in varying degrees, by child development research and educational evaluation. The practical application of a curriculum model includes guidelines on how to set up the physical environment, structure the activities, interact with children and their families, and support staff members in their initial training and ongoing implementation of the program. In this study, the model used by the preschool program is a play-based curriculum.

Play-based curriculum: refers to the learning model based on developmentally appropriate play. This model is child-centered; it is based on children's interest to ensure maximized participation, focus, and learning.

Developmentally appropriate practices: practices that are "designed for the age group served and implemented with attention to the need and differences of the individual children enrolled" (Bredekamp, 1998 p. 53). In this study, developmentally appropriate practices refer to the teaching practices of kindergarten teachers as manifested in their classes.

Beliefs: refer to a set of ideas or thoughts that a person finds important or that influences his or her feelings, attitudes, and behavior. Beliefs are subjective and can be measured by asking participants to elucidate their thoughts on a certain topic or issue.

Attitudes: refer to a social construct that is predetermined by a person's beliefs. If the belief is negative, then the attitude toward the issue or problem is also negative. Attitudes are associated with stereotypes of what is socially acceptable.

Feelings: refer to the affective component of an individual's belief and attitude towards a certain issue or topic. Feelings are associated with the personal experience and evaluation of the said issue.

Understanding/Perception: refers to the totality of the individual's beliefs, attitudes, and feelings towards a certain issue or topic.

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