How learning through play can help your child thrive beyond school

May 8, 2020

 

During this unprecedented time, managing work from home and keeping our children engaged and focused can be challenging when all they want to do is play. However, there’s no reason to worry, going by the Lego Foundation's recent research which concluded that learning through play can be as effective:

“The evidence supporting learning through play’s positive impact on child development is strong.”

 
Learning through play

Kristina and Marcus had seen their friend’s child, Ariana, since the day she was born. Right from her first steps to her first words, Ariana had been a little slow in everything. Ariana’s father, a teacher and a big time advocate of learning through play, was, however, not worried.

He was determined enough to not give up and come up with a solution to her daughter’s slow learning curve.

So, instead of pushing Ariana to cope up with her peers, he focused on the development of her cognitive skills, social competence and emotional well-being besides her physical and mental health. The results of such a proactive approach? By three years, Ariana finally picked up the momentum and she has never looked back since then.

Ariana is in her teens now and doing well in not only her school but beyond. That was the exact reason Kristina and Marcus were least worried when their two-year-old son, Adam, showed the same learning traits as Ariana.

“I know learning is a continuous process, but the speed of learning that takes place in early childhood can never be surpassed. So, when we realized that Adam was not a fast learner as his peers, we did not panic. We also had Ariana’s example to fall back on. Trust me, when you let your child explore his surroundings and let him learn through play, that is when the best learning happens.”

“I know learning is a continuous process, but the speed of learning that takes place in early childhood can never be surpassed. So, when we realized that Adam was not a fast learner as his peers, we did not panic. We also had Ariana’s example to fall back on. Trust me, when you let your child explore his surroundings and let him learn through play, that is when the best learning happens.”

We have such progressive parents like Kristina and Marcus, who have adopted learning through play happily, on the contrary, we have parents and educators, just as American author Leo F. Buscaglia puts it:

“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.”

The paradox is because these parents and educators do not understand how critical play is in a child’s learning process. They believe that play can take away precious time from their children’s learning, as they fail to understand the benefits of play. Play can not only teach them critical skills, but also promote learning competencies and development.

Ariana and Adam’s stories are not just testimonies of how parents are embracing hands-on experiential learning and tapping on their children’s potential, but they are also an eye opener on how learning through play can be a powerful learning opportunity.

 

Are our schools equipped to implement playful learning?

As we see the mounting evidence on how engaging a child through play is an effective pedagogical approach in education, many educators are re-inventing ways of teaching young children. This is the very reason why several educators today are focusing on techniques that foster play, hands-on learning and exploration that go beyond individual lessons.

"Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.” - O. Fred Donaldson

There may be several educators and parents across the world waking up to the benefits of play, however, the larger problem needs to be addressed. The fact still remains that several countries across the globe do not include play-based learning modules in their curriculum or teaching methods. UNICEF’s review of the Early Learning Development Standards conducted in 37 countries show that the playful learning module was integrated in only one third of the standards.

Several teachers pointed out that they are not well-prepared and equipped with training or materials to implement play-based learning in their makerspaces or classrooms. Jenny Linden, a primary school teacher in New South Wales, said:

“For most of us our teaching materials include charts, lesson plans and workbooks. We know in order to implement hands-on play-based learning in our classrooms, we need adequate resources or play materials coupled with proper training. In fact, if we were to implement play-based learning in our classrooms with immediate effect, it would be a flop show because of lack of training and resources.”

Another pre-primary teacher in Oklahoma, Lynette DeCruz, pointed out:

“In order to implement play-based learning in our classrooms, we also need to limit the number of students in a class with a good teacher-child ratio. It can be quite challenging to provide materials as well as active participation in a class of over 20 children in a relatively small space. The size of the class restricts us from giving individual attention to students.”

The problems shared by these teachers clearly portray how schools and administrations need to wake up to the importance of play-based learning modules with a solid understanding of play and playful learning. They also need to realize how crucial play is to a child’s early development and look at ways to introduce and integrate play as a core value and let children explore concepts in their natural surroundings besides setting up indoor play centers. Teachers need to be empowered and trained to skillfully execute playfulness and play-based learning in their curriculum.

 

“Play is not a luxury. It is a necessity.”

Long-term studies have revealed that giving the freedom and time for children to play and allowing them to explore their environment, enhances their learning process. When they explore their surroundings, they become more observant, and they begin to identify objects, patterns, shapes and sizes.

American clinical psychologist and writer, Kay Redfield Jamison had rightly said:

“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.”

We do not have to teach language and communication or problem-solving skills to children. They pick these skills on their own through playful learning, which lays the foundation for a child’s success beyond school. For instance, letting a child play simple games like peek-a-boo, stacking blocks etc. go a long way in building a child’s cognitive skills. These games teach them to concentrate and pay attention to details.

Children can learn simple math, science and literary concepts through play. You can teach counting to your child from their surroundings by using props like chairs, pillars, spoons and flowers. They do not need worksheets to learn basic math. In fact, they will learn the concepts better because they are learning with their heads and hearts in an interesting context. Besides visualization and analytical skills, they also learn how to solve problems, literally!

These early learning concepts lay the foundation to formal education. The first few years of life mold a child’s future. These are the years when the brain develops significantly. It is said that approximately 80 percent of brain development occurs by three years and 90 percent by five years. Therefore, lack of play or playful learning can have a long-term adverse effect on a child’s learning process.

 

Play teaches children leadership skills besides teaching them to share, resolve conflicts, communicate, negotiate and conquer fear among others. It satisfies a child’s need to demonstrate curiosity, imagination and innovation. Play also teaches resilience and how to deal with certain situations. It is important for children to release their energy through play. Even releasing his/her energy through play can expand a child’s mind like no other.

“Do not keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.” - Plato

It is therefore important for parents to introduce age-specific educational or problem-solving toys. Such hands-on learning toys help develop several skills that they can eventually fall back on later in life. When you let them play and learn on their own, they tend to make mistakes and it is only through mistakes that true learning occurs. Making mistakes helps them nurture their imagination and creativity, besides making them independent and boosting their confidence.

Can kids be trusted to do things that seem out of reach of adults? Can we trust kids to play freely and not hurt themselves during the process?

Parents who introduce toys that foster sensory play early on say that it helps their children focus on sound, sight and touch. While we all know the benefits of outdoor and physical play, it is also crucial to let children understand safety concerns.

Incorporating play-based learning early on can help children have fun and also lay the foundation for their success beyond school. But to recognize the importance of playful learning without being prejudiced, we need more parents like Kristina and Marcus who are setting up a good precedent for others to follow.

 

Thoughts to ponder

To conclude, let’s look at how computer scientist Gever Tulley is using project-based learning in his California-based Tinkering School. In this school, children are not evaluated or given tests to prove themselves, nor are they taught any particular subject.

With the school’s motto of “think, make, tinker”, children in this school come and engage themselves in projects. They are given all the freedom to explore and experiment. Tulley believes that this freedom makes them “creative, confident and in control of the environment around them.”

Tully, who loves building things with children, is of the opinion that when you restrict your child with stringent safety regulations,

“We cut off our children from valuable opportunities to learn how to interact with the world.”

Watch Tulley speak on how children can learn life lessons through tinkering:

 

 

So, how are you incorporating playfulness in your child’s day-to-day activity? List them down in your comments below.

About Author
Urmila, who is a Big Data and STEM enthusiast, works as the head of communications with Mand Labs. She is a believer in transformation of life and career through STEM. She can be reached on Twitter @umarak

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