Or is it? Aristotle once came out with this gem: “Learning is not child’s play; we cannot learn without pain.” It is not my place to question one of the finest Ancient Greek philosophers, but I am going to have to do so in this case! It may not be quite what he was getting at, but fact of the matter is: children learn through play. There’s no doubt about it.
There are two trends that are true all over the world today. You will definitely have noticed the first. Nowadays the sorts of fun activities for children that are promoted often consist of nothing more than watching television, the latest DVD or playing games on a console.
Can children learn through these activities? Of course! The next generation are more competent at using IT than ever before… Don’t know how to reboot your computer? Ask your eight year-old! However, children are gradually losing their innate flexible creativity by regular exposure to structured activities and the latest hi-tech toy.
The second trend is perhaps less noticeable. Schools have recognised the lack of child’s play at home and are now offering more opportunities for children to learn through play at a young age. The timetable consists of less formal teaching and more topic-work and educational fun activities for children.
Maths is taught via the water-tub or the pretend shop… Literacy through the types of dressing up and role-play games that were once prevalent in every home…
So, how can we recover the lost art of helping children learn through play? And, perhaps more importantly, how can we do so covertly? “That’s a lovely painting, honey, but let me teach you about 3-D perspective” – it’s not the most subtle way to approach things! Here are some useful considerations:
You do this already.
The very fact that you have clicked on this article means that you care. I would be willing to predict that most readers of this article already provide stimulating multi-sensory environments for their children to learn in. Squeaky toys, musical instruments, illustrated books, fun bath times, sandpits, policeman hats… You do it already. In some ways, this article has nothing new to say. And yet its message has been muted in recent years. If nothing else, I hope that it encourages you to continue to give your child opportunities to simply play.
Learning through play doesn’t necessarily mean teaching through play.
What is child’s play? Surely it’s all about your child exploring, examining, questioning, imagining… Each new experience is an adventure in itself, where something fresh is discovered about the world. If your child is given time for free-play, the questions will tumble out of her and natural opportunities for you to answer these will present themselves. Let them be and see where it takes them.
Structuring a child’s play experiences also has its merits.
This needs to be emphasised. The baby needs to explore and be stimulated by all its senses. This investigation of the world around them often begins with well-chosen objects for them to get their hands on. This is learning. The wind chimes that you place in her bedroom is learning. The soft bricks that you build up only for him to knock them down again. This is learning too. And it is all structured by you.
Repetition is important when helping children learn through play.
Repetition is important when helping children learn through play… Repetition is… (and so on!) The point being that children like (and learn from) revisiting activities that were significant to them earlier in the day, yesterday afternoon or last week. Do you allow them that chance to return to earlier play activities or are you constantly looking for fresh ideas?
Allow your child to learn in her own time.
The child is in control here. You may be the one that gives them the toy musical instrument to play with, but it is your child who will become involved with it on their own terms. Timing has got to be flexible. Lashings of “let’s do it again” and a dollop of “shall we leave it until later”. It would be impossible to try and predict how long certain fun activities for children may capture their attention for. Don’t force them to learn. Just keep an open mind and put the stopwatch away!
As they get older, children rely on different learning styles. Some learn best by listening, others by seeing… Evidence from teachers shows that the old adage still rings true:
“Tell me and I’ll forget; Show me and I may remember; But involve me and I’ll understand.”
It’s a saying that you’ve always known, no doubt, and one that schools revisit every so often in their quest for a new initiative to inspire the 21st Century child. When they move onto the next trend, however, remember that children learn by doing.
And let’s leave Aristotle’s wise words for motivating those disaffected teenagers out there whose idea of fun activities for children are significantly different to yours. But, in your family’s case, children can learn without pain and guess what?
It’s child’s play!