Learning Through Free Play
“It is obscure that many teachers and parents still distinguish between a time for learning and a time for play without recognizing the vital connection between them.” -Leo F. Buscaglia
We are living in the 21st century, and just like every other thing, our methods of educating children must also be changed. Most parents are under the impression that learning and playing are two separate entities. However, the fact is that playing is the quickest and the most effective source to learn new things. Albert Einstein, the greatest mind of our history, recalls a crucial event in his life that sparked his enthusiasm for scientific discovery. He was four years old, affected by a childhood illness when his dad gave him a magnetic compass to play with. The genius spent hours spinning the compass, admiring how the needle was always accurate in pointing out north. Albert Einstein quoted this incident in one of his books, he says, "that experience made a profound and permanent impression on me. Something deeply hidden had to be behind things.''
The above example is enough to explain the significance of play in children's life. Teachers and researchers all over the world undisputedly agree that play can help enhance learning and acquire skills such as analysis, invention, experimentation, and collaboration.
Understanding meaningful play:
All schools that have a Montessori education system concentrate on promoting meaningful play in children. Now the question is, how meaningful play is different from the regular play? Well, the former has the following characteristics.
- It gives children the freedom to chose what they want to do.
- Rather than sticking to a specific script, meaningful play evolves spontaneously.
- This kind of play is free from any external rewards, and it is only driven by an intrinsic motive.
- It is practiced in a risk-free environment where children are free to experiment and try new ideas.
How do kids learn through play?
We need to understand that the learning abilities of children and adults are a lot different. Kids mostly learn by interactions and physical experiences. They also learn quite a lot using their imagination. Here is when play is essential, as it attracts the creative and logical parts of their brain. For young kids, play is usually a whole-body activity that helps them to develop skills they will find useful in the future. Dancing, running, rolling, all these activities have some hidden effects on the personalities of kids. It helps them to build emotional and mental muscles as well, which will ultimately foster their character. Some researchers from the University of Denver found that kids teach themselves to control their sentiments and think before they do anything while playing. Sounds interesting, right? Well, playing can literally do wonders, and its significance is discussed in the next few lines.
Why is it necessary?
The early years of life have a massive effect on a child’s future. The reason why this time is crucial is that this is the moment when brain development is at its peak (especially in the first two years). If a child is not provided with enough playing opportunities, it will have grave consequences on his/her physical and mental health. This phenomenon is known as under-stimulation, and parents must avoid it at all costs. According to research, almost 80% of brain development is completed when a child gets three years old. What does this imply? Well, it means by the time a child reaches primary school, more than half of their brain is already developed. The games they play in the early years lays the foundations for formal education. The only problem is that poor children, whose parents can not afford quality toys are not as privileged as the children of rich parents. However, if you know the basics, and you stick to them, then the financial status of parents does not really make a difference.
Activities that can help children to learn through play:
The discussion above may convince a lot of parents about the significance of playing. However, they might not know about the activities that could be used to make them learn new things. Obviously, not all kinds of play could be called as a meaningful play. Some activities that have more play potential are discussed below.
- Sand Play: If you ever thought playing with sand is unhealthy, you are absolutely wrong. Sand play is a perfect opportunity to lay down the foundations of scientific education, and nurturing self-confidence. Sifting, digging, scooping, and pouring help the kids to understand how things work. Also, if they are building a sandcastle with their friends, their teamwork and social skills will be enhanced.
- Water Play: Just like sand play, playing with water is also quite helpful for children. When children play with water, they will understand the consequences of their actions in a better way. It also helps them to do different experiments in a safe environment.
- Play Dough: One of the best learning sources for children is dough. It enhances their creativity, fine motor skills, and help the children to calm themselves. Also, it strengthens their fingers that will help them in writing.
- Doll and Character Play: Well, normally, when we hear the word doll, we quickly relate them to daughters. The fact, however, is that playing with action figures is equally beneficial for boys as it is for girls. It allows them to develop social skills, and it encourages imagination as well. For example, if a little girl is playing the role of a mother with her doll, she will express her true feelings and behave just like a mother does.
- Painting and Drawing: If you are letting your children run wild with paint tools, you are doing them a favor for a lifetime. Yes, folks, when you allow kids to play freely with paints ignoring all the mess that could create, they develop self-expression that will help them in the future. It is a perfect source to enhance creativity, as well.
- Blocks and Shape Sorters: Playing with jigsaws, shape sorters, and blocks will set the grounds of logical reasoning, spatial thinking, ordering, and identifying different colors, shapes, and sizes.
- Dancing, Music, and Singing: Just like adults, little kids have an unusual inclination towards music and singing. It helps them to develop language and lays the foundation for literacy development. Also, music will enhance their listening skills, while dancing will help them in coordination.
- Physical Play: Jumping, Running, and Climbing is not only beneficial for physical health, but it is also useful for their mental well-being. These physical activities help children to develop their resilience through risk-taking, and it enhances their decision-making skills.
- Nature Play: If you want your child to become more inquisitive and independent, take their play space to outdoors. Playing in nature has dramatic effects on the personalities of kids. This is the reason for the popularity of forest schools. This whole process is not only healthy, but it teaches your children to respect the environment.
- Board Games: Parents have always ignored the significance of board games. There are a lot of appropriate board games that are specially made for young children. Parents must embrace such games, not only for the fun part but for the hidden learning potential from which your kid could be benefitted. Also, these games can help your kids to develop the habit of turn-taking and sharing.
- Cooking: This is another great play scenario for kids. Cooking or even pretend-cooking have the elements of sensory play, following protocols, and mathematical concepts. Also, just like other activities, cooking promotes social interaction which is extremely necessary for the growth of children.
Allowing Independent play:
As a parent, it is understandable if you want to show care for your child 24/7. However, you must understand the significance of letting the children play independently. It helps them to be self-sufficient, and it is another exceptional way to promote better learning experiences for your kids. It is the most precious experience for kids because when they play without interference from parents, they learn to take risks, to dream, and to make critical decisions.
In the end, please realize that you can not force your decisions on your little angels. If you want to make a significant impact on the overall personalities of your kids, you must adjust yourself according to their needs, instead of sticking to old conventional ways. Play is defined as a basic right of children by the UN. It enables youngsters to use their imagination while developing their creativity, adroitness, and cognitive, and emotional strength. Most parents may not realize, but the play is essential to healthy brain development. It is through play that kids at a very early age interact and engage with the world around them. Most of the kids are born with a natural ability to play. However, some children fail to develop the connection between learning and playing, and that is where parents make a big difference. Whereas it is very essential that kids play with their friends and are given opportunities for amorphous play, children who play with adults can benefit greatly as well.
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