We spend a lot of time helping children learn things, but how much time do we spend thinking about how to best do that? In “The Science of Learning”, we’ll explore what research says about how we best learn. Most importantly, we’ll find out how we can apply theories and research to our real lives as parents, mentors, teachers, and learners.

 

Think back on your childhood. Which events or memories stand out for you?

If you’re like most people, it’s probably not days spent cooped up in a classroom or on a screen. Instead, you might recall games outside, going out onto the playground, taking a hike on a local trail, or even board game nights. Whatever it is, time playing is important.

1: Hussain Badshah, Unsplash

Despite this intuitive understanding, it’s easy to ignore the importance of learning through play. Many parents fear their children will fall behind because of changes to school routines and models. Some have set up “pandemic pods” for their children to ensure they don’t miss any key learning outcomes (Global News). Others have scrambled to fill their children’s time with structured lessons and activities. Why is this not necessarily the most beneficial thing for your child?

It’s not that programs are bad for children – in fact, learning how to read, write, add, and more are crucial skills that extra programs (like Learning Buddies!) can really boost! But children don’t respond very well to endless worksheets and drills. Instead, look for programs that teach through play. And, as we’ll discuss here, make sure you leave some time for children to just explore the world in a more unstructured way.

2: Marcus Spiske, Unsplash

Learning through play has proven to be incredibly important for the social development of young children. The Canadian Child Care Foundation emphasizes that giving children choice over when/how they play helps them take ownership of their learning and develop more creativity. If you want someone to “think outside of the box”, ensuring you aren’t forcing them to play “within the box” is important. Additionally, an UNICEF report on learning through play explains that children learn crucial skills related to planning, problem solving, and project-making by playing. For instance, a child might plan out a drawing of her family, attempt to problem-solve if her brother doesn’t look the way she wants her to, and then figure out how to display the final product on the family board. In the process of creating, she’s learned quite a bit! If you’re interested in learning more about the research behind the benefits of learning through play, the New York Times created a series of articles about play, which you can access here.

 

Knowing that play is important, what can we do to ensure that children receive the benefits of learning through play? When possible, looking for more open-ended toys or activities (LEGOs, the type without tutorials included, are a classic example of this kind of toy!) is a great first step. When working with children, it’s also helpful to resist the urge to give “instructions” to children when working with them. For instance, instead of giving children instruction on how to draw a tree, ask them to draw a scene of something outdoors. These slight differences can make a big difference in how creative and innovative we encourage children to be. Even if you can’t resist the urge to put your child in programs, which is understandable, look for programs that balance learning and fun for your child.

At the end of the day, the question of learning through play is all about balance. It’s wonderful to expose children to different learning opportunities through structure and classes. At the same time, it’s also wonderful to give them the opportunity to roam and create memories that last.

Do you have thoughts or questions about this article? Feel free to email gabrielle@learningbuddiesnetwork.com!