I came across this brief article outlining the current research evidence that overwhelming supports beginning formal instruction at around the age of seven years old. Read it and see my comments below:
When are we going to take play seriously and give it the recognition it deserves? Somehow, parents have to get this valuable information so they can understand the essential role of free-play in their children’s lives. Children need playful activity; it is as necessary to their healthy development as nutritious food and loving care. Brain research is showing us the important job of play in increasing synaptic growth of the frontal cortex – the part of the brain associated with higher level thinking skills. Not to mention the benefits in areas like motivation, emotional well-being, and self-regulation.
To quote the article: “In my own area of experimental and developmental psychology, studies have also consistently demonstrated the superior learning and motivation arising from playful, as opposed to instructional, approaches to learning in children. Pretend play supports children’s early development of symbolic representational skills, including those of literacy, more powerfully than direct instruction. Physical, constructional and social play supports children in developing their skills of intellectual and emotional ‘self-regulation’, skills which have been shown to be crucial in early learning and development. Perhaps most worrying, a number of studies have documented the loss of play opportunities for children over the second half of the 20th century and demonstrated a clear link with increased indicators of stress and mental health problems.”
For me, this evidence just reinforces the importance of making play and time spent in nature a priority in our family life. Yesterday, I took my youngest to Thacher State Park. She brought a bucket and a shovel, and spent the next several hours playing in and around a river. She collected rocks and I pointed out the fossils to her. We tried catching a frog for a long time. She built a ‘nest’ and pretended the rocks were her eggs. She sat on them for quite a while and I taught her the word ‘incubation’. The joy of that time together was that it evolved organically from her imagination and interests. We didn’t plan any of it beyond, “Let’s go to the river and play”. If you’re open and curious to where the child’s playful activity takes you, so many opportunities for fun and learning pop up. It is a delightful surprise to realize we don’t have to try that hard!