Children come to the International School of San Antonio to learn a new language, first and foremost. Along the way they learn math, reading, art, music and cultural knowledge. The unsung hero of a preschool education, however, is social-emotional learning. Social learning and emotional learning are not the same thing, but since they are so closely related it is useful to talk about them together.
As children develop emotionally, they learn how to recognize and show their own emotions. They also learn to recognize and respond to the emotions of others. Social and emotional learning happen simultaneously as children learn to become functional members of society.
Maria Montessori said that children need “the society of other children.” In order for children to learn to recognize and respond to the emotions of others, they need exposure to them first. The preschool environment provides “the society of other children” so that kids can get this exposure. Free play time is when children have the biggest opportunity to engage with other children. Our desire to play with others is so hardwired into us, we can even play with our non-homo sapien relatives.
What makes cooperative pretend play so special? First of all, children have to be able to control their emotions if they want to play with others. No one wants to play with a kid throwing a tantrum. The fun of play incentivizes kids to be on their best (or better) behavior.
Additionally, children who pretend play together have to agree on what is happening. Are they pirates? Princesses? Penguins? We take this kind of cooperation for granted, but really it is quite impressive that children are capable of agreeing on the parameters of their play from such an early age.
What is the role for adults in cooperative pretend play? A lot of adults find pretend play interminably boring. That is okay! Guided play is definitely something that exists, and can be good for children. It is not mandatory for parents, however. A little non-interference can be good for children too. Adults are often tempted to step in if children get into an argument, but there is value in letting children work out conflicts themselves. In Japan, in fact the default response of preschool teachers is a concept called mimamoru, which essentially means “watching and waiting.” Japanese preschool teachers prefer to hold back if a conflict arises during play so that the children learn to work things out themselves.
Free play with other children works wonders for children’s social-emotional development. They learn to recognize and control their own emotions, how to cooperate with others, and how to recognize and respond to the emotions of others. Like the new languages that students get from their education at ISSA, self-regulation is a lifelong skill.
Author: Mary Field