David Whitebread, University of Cambridge, unpacks the evidence behind his views that our school children should start formal education later and have a longer time to develop through play:
There are several strands of evidence which all point towards the importance of play in young children’s development, and the value of an extended period of playful learning before the start of formal schooling. These arise from anthropological, psychological, neuroscientific and educational studies. Anthropological studies of children’s play in extant hunter-gatherer societies, and evolutionary psychology studies of play in the young of other mammalian species, have identified play as an adaptation which evolved in early human social groups. It enabled humans to become powerful learners and problem-solvers. Neuroscientific studies have shown that playful activity leads to synaptic growth, particularly in the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for all the uniquely human higher mental functions.
It is sad that practical obstacles are likely to ensure we don’t see any real change on this front. If our whole education system shifted to starting formal education from seven, the upheaval would be immense. Not to mention the impact upon parents and the likely resistance by many.
But, if we truly want to lead the world with the education of our children, we need a political party who are prepared to sell the vision, the evidence, and explain that, no matter the short-term inconvenience and discomfort of change, it is simply something we must do.