Most education professionals know and understand that the early years of education are crucial for developing the foundational learning that determines a child’s future success in the workplace. These years are essential for providing children with the skills they need for healthy growth and development and experts agree that efforts need to be made to ensure that children are educated in a way that supports them to meet the demands of the 21st century.
Whether or not we like it, the world is changing at a rapid pace and our children are growing up in a world of artificial intelligence, advances in genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and complicated algorithms. Future job prospects have dramatically changed as our industries have evolved and grown - requiring future employees that are able to work in very different ways than their parents or grandparents have in the past.
What does this mean for the children of the world?
Preparing children to be able to live and work in the 21st century requires very specific skills and abilities that must be fostered and supported from a young age. Creative and innovative thinking has become more and more important and the development of skills for life-long learning are now essential. Encouraging children to become curious, confident, and resilient learners will help them to be more successful within a technology-driven society.
Thankfully, play-based learning provides the perfect vehicle for building such important skills. Play in the early years will support children to learn how to work collaboratively with others on innovative projects. It gives children the freedom to explore and discover whilst building the skills they need for effective focus and concentration. Play also enables children to engage in high-level thinking processes as they problem-solve, analyse, evaluate, and transfer their knowledge to new situations and experiences.
Karen Walter is a teaching and learning specialist and she states that ‘Play enables a child to bring together their existing knowledge with new ideas to solve problems - making new understandings. Stretching their creative abilities provides complex choices and problem solving in new and innovative ways, in this they are learning to be critical thinkers’. Critical thinking is an essential 21st century skill so we need to grow children who can think out-of-the-box and see multiple possibilities when faced with a problem.
How can we support children to build 21st century skills?
Providing a learning environment that is designed to spark curiosity and invite exploration will support children to develop important 21st century skills. Instead of offering activities such as puzzles that have only one way to engage with them, open-ended play materials like loose parts and Lego will allow children the opportunity to think in different ways and to solve complex problems. The use of real-world equipment such as magnifying glasses, telescopes and wood-work tools, will encourage children to be confident learners who are respected and viewed as scientists, engineers and mathematicians right from birth.
The provision of a play-based environment in the early years has so many benefits for children, yet play is not always viewed as a means for high-level learning. Whilst children are becoming more and more familiar with using technology, it is important to remember that good old fashioned play experiences are essential for preparing them for a 21st century world. So, put away the Ipads and pull out the building blocks to give your child the best educational start. After all, the future is really not that far away…