Leaders in Learning: Teaching kids to 'play with purpose'

The Idaho AEYC is the leading voice in Idaho pushing for high quality early learning.

You're looking at the most influential teacher this child will ever have.

Her mom.

That's because learning doesn't start in the classroom.

"We know that with brain development, 90 percent of the brain is developed by the time the child is zero to 5 years old," said Beth Oppenheimer, executive direction for the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children.

The Idaho AEYC is the leading voice in Idaho pushing for high quality early learning.

"More folks are realizing we have to invest in the early years in order to ensure that our children are better prepared when they enter school," Oppenheimer said. "We know they're going to be a lot more successful in their K-12 education if they have opportunities to participate in high quality early learning."

So, what does high quality early learning look like? It doesn't have to be formal or rigid. In fact, it's just the opposite. It encourages playing with purpose.

"Play with a purpose is having a goal in mind while you're just playing with your child," said Hailey Michalk, Boise coordinator for Ready For Kindergarten.

Michalk helps coordinate the AEYC's Ready for Kindergarten program. It's something she's passionate about.

"I used to be a kindergarten teacher and I would have a group of children every year that were so excited to learn," Michalk said. "And I would have this huge range every year where some were already reading and doing activities independently and just needed some general guidance."

"Then, I had children who hadn't seen letters before, hadn't held a book they we're still holding them upside down. So, as a teacher, I saw this great need for something to happen before they got to school."

So, that's what Ready For Kindergarten does.

It shows parents how easily it is to incorporate simple, small activities every day that end up making a big difference in a child's life. At the end, they send parents home with a kit of toy that they cause use while playing with their child, to teach them the foundational skills they'll need to be ready for kindergarten.

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