Meet our Bates advisor, Karen Patjens

Did you know that South Hill co-op is affiliated with the Home and Life Department at Bates Technical College? Among many other benefits, our school is assigned a Bates Instructor with whom we work closely and who provides:

–  Assistance, consultations and parent education classes.
– Referrals to community resources.
– Monthly parent education opportunities and teacher education workshops.
– Board training and advisory assistance to help the preschool board officers administer the school’s non-profit organization business.

The Bate’s instructor who oversees our school is Karen Patjens. When asked her to share a an article on the importance of play in Early Childhood Education, this is what she had to say:

This is the time of year that adults often ask lots of questions about what children are learning at preschool and why there is so much “free play time”. Free play time is essentially time where children are allowed to choose whatever activity they wish from all which are available in the classroom. It is unstructured time, but not time without rules. The children are still expected to learn how to take turns, treat the materials with respect and use appropriate indoor voices. Still, adults sometimes mistake free play time as time better spent “learning”.

In a segment on National Public Radio featuring Howard Chudacoff, a cultural historian at Brown University, discussed how play has changed. Up until recently children played outdoors, unsupervised and engaged in freewheeling and imaginative play. However, today, children’s play is more scripted by their toys, more directed by the media, and more protected by anxious parents. In the NPR interview, Chudacoff talked about how these changes in how children play also results in changes in their cognitive and emotional development.

“It turns out that all that time spent playing make-believe actually helped children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behaviors, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.”

“We know that children’s capacity for self-regulation has diminished. A recent study replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5, and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn’t stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena Bodrova at the National Institute for Early Education Research says, the results were very different.

“‘Today’s 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today’s 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago,’ Bodrova explains. ‘So the results were very sad.’ “ “Sad because self-regulation is incredibly important. Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use, and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child’s IQ. Children who are able to manage their feelings and pay attention are better able to learn. As executive function researcher Laura Berk explains, ‘Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain.’ ”

It is very important that parents understand what children are learning through play and not diminish the importance of it. If you have any questions about free play, please feel free to ask. As always, I am looking forward to another successful school year and getting to know each and every one of you and your wonderful children.

Karen Patjens

Bates Technical College Child Studies Instructor