Learning Through Play
To the naked eye, a child’s block structure may not seem exquisite or rich in fundamental learning. But to the knowing eye, there is a world of learning being strategically developed.
Play-based learning is at the center of an approach to learning called Constructivism. In Constructivism, the child constructs his/her own learning experiences, and makes sense of the world intrinsically (through self-motivation). The teacher is a resource to enhance specific skill sets within the child’s guided interests and to provide an environment rich with child-centered materials. The child learns through play.
Play-based learning seems to be phasing out of many early learning institutions. While our culture trends towards quick accumulation of letters and numbers - valuing the rote, standard way of learning to read and write or complete math sentences as early as possible- it forgets (or perhaps is unaware of) the incredible value of play in the early years of life.
This approach to learning was researched and supported by culturally known experts in education and cognitive development, in the early 1900's.
Montessori was a pediatric doctor whose research pointed to the environment as crucial to child development. She created materials that were fit for a child, in settings that were beautiful and orderly. She also highly valued careful observation as a means to build the educational environment and curriculum.
“She thought it is the teacher’s job to prepare the environment, provide appropriate materials, and then step back and allow the children the time and space to experiment.” *
Erik Erickson, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygostky laid a foundation of insight into the emotional and cognitive development of children.
Erikson researched emotional intelligence and the development of emotional skills. He found that a balance of choice and clear limits is necessary for children to develop a strong sense of self and of purpose. He suggested that environments where all children do the same thing at the same time hinder necessary social-emotional development for the preschool age group.
Vygotsky found that play introduces conditions to which children have to use a lot of language, which widely contributes to their construction of knowledge. These interactions (with peers and adults) help take children from where they are in their understanding and furthering it (this is called scaffolding). In environments where play is limited, we also limit the child's opportunity to learn from interaction with others (resiliency, compromise, confidence, identification and communication of feelings, empathy, etc...the list is long)
Piaget‘s work found that children learn best when they are motivated internally instead of externally and can discover their own understanding. This is in comparison to listening to an adult’s understanding or following directions in order to obtain a goal derived from an adult's instruction. He found that play helps children to make sense of the world. Thus, when an adult is the main voice of sense, the child only understands what the adult tells them to understand and how the adult understands it.
Play-based learning isn’t of lesser quality. I would argue that it is actually much more rich and dynamic compared to standard instruction. When children interact through play with materials and each other they gain hands-on experience into how things, themselves and other people work. Play fosters the development of the whole child: physical, linguistic, emotional, social, and intellectual development.
*Ref: Theories of Childhood : An Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erickson, Piaget & Vygotsky by Carol Garhart Mooney