All studies show that during first 8 years of their lives children learn the most and develop some of the most crucial abilities. It is also a well known fact that the skills and knowledge gained during the first 8 years of life is most solid, abiding and fundamental for developing other, more advanced experiences. These facts caught the attention of many experts in education, who looked for the most optimal way the children absorb new experiences and turn them into solid knowledge. They discovered that learning through play is the natural way, in which children acquire new knowledge and skills. These studies changed the way we perceive children’s play and brought the question: can similar method be used also at more advanced levels of education?
The benefits of learning through play
Early learning of children is a complex, not yet fully understood process: what seems to be simple children play is in fact an exercise, which develops physical, cognitive, emotional and social skills. Children learn the most through operations on concrete objects and they develop abstract thinking by experiencing the concrete objects and observing certain regularities, as it happens naturally during play. Instead of focusing on passive tasks, children, who learn through play can develop abilities these passive tasks do not induce, for example the ability to cooperate with peers, to solve problems in a creative manner, to learn how to express one’s emotions in a socially acceptable ways.
In other words, learning through play is a more holistic and all-comprehensive process than passive learning – instead of completing only the arbitrarily chosen tasks, the children are able to develop various abilities, also these, which are not the main goal of the task. No wonder that learning through play is preferred by children and perceived as fun, stress-free activity.
Can learning through play be used at more advanced levels of education?
This brings us to the question is learning through play the perfect method for teaching everything? Unfortunately no. Learning through play in its simplest form is a method of developing practical abilities, but it does not teach the children facts. To do that a solid portion of theory and factual knowledge has to be incorporated into learning through play. Certain education methods, such as HighScope or the Montessori Method, prove that this combination is possible and provide curricula based on learning through play approach and adjusted to the requirements of the elementary school system. In both these methods the children are encouraged to take control over the process of educating, while the teacher’s role is to facilitate and observe the learning process, instead of giving it an arbitrary shape. Learning through play method applied to mathematics can also bring surprisingly good results.
Singapore Math is a math curriculum inspired by learning through play. According to this method the students learn all math concepts on concrete and pictorial representations, before they move to the abstract stage. The method is focused on developing problem solving attitude in students, who often work in groups and solve math problems together. Singapore Math method is first introduced in elementary schools, but it can be continued also in middle and high school, providing outstanding results.
To sum it up, learning through play is a surprisingly effective, welcomed by children method, which assumes more holistic perspective on education. It is the natural way, through which we all learn, and it involves many different skills and abilities. While the method has its limitations it can be easily combined with theoretical knowledge and adapted to more advanced levels of education, providing very good results.
This article is authored by by Irene Kovalyova: professional blogger, SMM and inboung marketing evangelist working for iSingaporeMath project about Singapore math teaching method.