How Play Can Help Your Little One Learn
When trying to determine good ways for your little one to learn, play may not always reach the top of the list. After all, we are usually taught that play is for fun, and that school and early childhood education requires structure and order that play just does not have. However, this is not always the situation. Play is actually a central way for your little one to learn! Not only does it help your little one to develop important social skills, but it can help them to make sense of the big and often confusing world they’re living in. To learn playfully incorporates elements of the order of school and the freedom of play, which allows your little one to try new learning activities while enjoying them.
While a good deal of research is being done on focused play, Project Zero, which is a subsection of Harvard’s Graduate Center of Education, has been hard at work to help early childhood educators from all over the world to better define focused play. Spanning multiple continents—one in the United States, one in Columbia, one in Denmark, and one in South Africa—they have observed the variety of ways in which learning through play has shown up in different cultures. In Denmark, students were able to design their own schedules for two weeks, and in South Africa, children drew words using the “er” sound. One element was constant no matter the location, though—little ones had much more freedom to be creative, experiment, and use their imaginations!
So what is most important to know about learning through play? The first seems simple, but it’s that: it is possible to play with a purpose. You might worry that too much freedom will not be beneficial to your little one’s learning experience, but that is just not the case! Focused play can incorporate learning goals from your little one’s lesson plans and puts a good deal of trust in your little one to direct their own learning experience. However, early childhood educators are able to act as support systems for your little ones, guiding them towards those goals lest they get a tiny bit off-course!
Something else important to acknowledge about learning through play is that it can and will look different, depending on the culture your little one is learning in! Play is universal, there is no doubt about it. However, just because there are elements to play that are universal, such as more relaxation from your little one during play, does not mean focused play is the same everywhere. In many parts of the world, who children play with, when they play, and what the play itself looks like will be different—so just be prepared if your little one’s playful learning activities do not look the same as someone else’s!
Finally, it’s good to know that little ones are not the only people who can benefit from focused play! It’s true that as your little one gets older, their educational curriculum might be more demanding. However, if there is an element of play or playfulness to the learning goals of older students, there will be an increased sense of agency and control, curiosity, and enjoyment amongst older students—and this isn’t limited to just students either. Teachers and adults are shown to have benefited from focused play, too! For example, when teachers went outside to play a game that their little ones were playing, they gained key insight into how little ones play and what the experience of playing games as a child was like that they may have forgotten about!
Even though it may seem counterintuitive to encourage learning through play, there are so many benefits to it! Free play is a great way for your little one to decompress after learning, and focused learning is wonderful for introducing key learning goals, but focused play is a fantastic happy medium between the two to keep your little one engaged and enjoying their learning experience.
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Hi, I'm Miss Charlotte!
Miss Charlotte is an Education Director by trade, and a mom by heart. All 200+ of our DIY projects were created by Miss Charlotte, with the help of her expert DIY assistant—Her 4 year old daughter! With a MST degree in Early Childhood Education and 15 years of teaching experience, her blogs and DIY projects have been an incredible resource for our Playgarden Prep schools. We hope that your family loves them as much as we do!