Learning through play

Learning through play

Learning through play

By Christina Cunningham

“We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing.” - Charles Schaefer

Charles Schaefer’s words really say it all. Play is a state in which kids are free to explore, take risks and be themselves. One of our highest aims at Passionfruit Kids is to make language learning engaging and playful. The kids do the meaty work of play – imagining, creating and taking on new perspectives. Adults simply serve as the guides who provide children with the tools to explore and learn. 

True play is powerful. It allows children to approach new concepts in ways that are most comfortable to them. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences proposes that there are at least eight, and possibly more, ways that humans demonstrate intelligence and understanding. So, maybe your child feels most comfortable exploring the topic of plant life through big motor movements like climbing a tree to closely inspect its leaves. Meanwhile, a different child might feel more at ease singing a song that names the parts of a plant. Play allows children to show us what they know in a way where their own brand of knowledge shines. Loris Malaguzzi of the Reggio Emilia Approach mirrors this sentiment in his concept of the 100 Languages of Children, which suggests that children have many varying ways of considering, exploring and interacting with the world around them, all of which help them learn and grow. Essentially, play truly meets children right where they are.

Play is also the key way that little ones build social skills and traits like empathy. There is a natural progression of how young children engage in play, from solitary play, to playing alongside but not with others, to cooperative play filled with roles and rules. Children move through these distinct levels of play as they build skills in speech, conflict resolution and more. But, without opportunities to try (and fail) at these things, children cannot learn to work with others and consider their thoughts and preferences, which we all know is vital in adult life. Children also help one another to grow and learn as they play. Lev Vygotsky’s idea of the “zone of proximal development” proposes that children can learn more quickly when they work with another who is just ahead of them in a certain skill. Essentially, the child with more advanced skills brings the other up to meet their level. 

Play helps children explore abstract or weighty ideas in a safe way, where they feel like they’re in control. Maybe they’re trying to cope with the loss of a family member or pet, or are trying to make sense of a concerning story they heard on the news. You might notice young children reenacting these experiences through their imaginative play or with dolls and stuffed animals. Children need play as an outlet for their questions and fears in order to grow and move on from them. In this way, it helps children find a sense of well-being and security, supported by their grown-up guides. 

Most important, we all know that play brings kids joy. Ask any parent or teacher – throughout your day with children, you’re likely to hear at least 30 requests for you to play with them. Play is the magic that inspires deep learning. I guarantee, if you sit back and simply observe your children at play, without interfering or interjecting, you’ll witness the true measure of its value. The laughter, the surprising commentary, the bravery, and the values children display when at play are unparalleled. 

So, give them the tools. Give them the space. Give them the time. Give them the permission to play. Be nearby to help them when they need it, but also hang back a little longer than feels comfortable. Kids need the chance to question and take risks and try new things without our input. They learn from their successes and their mistakes. Watch them blossom from their powerful, purposeful play. 

Learn More:

Theory of Multiple Intelligences: https://mybrightwheel.com/blog/gardners-theory-of-multiple-intelligences

“100 Languages”:

https://www.reggiochildren.it/en/reggio-emilia-approach/100-linguaggi-en/

Zone of Proximal Development:

https://www.structural-learning.com/post/the-zone-of-proximal-development-a-teachers-guide