What is play based learning and why is it such an important tool in early childhood education?
When children play there is more going on than children simply amusing themselves. Play is practice for life as children imitate grown-ups. They mimic adult work, social roles, and how adults interact with one another. “Playing” provides an opportunity to tap into their natural curiosity and explore areas of interest to them, motivating them to develop a positive attitude toward their learning from meaningful experiences that encourage them to develop lifelong skills. Play based learning uses open ended materials and loose parts that allow children to experiment as they learn valuable social and cognitive skills.
So how does play help children learn?
Play is a natural stress reliever that allows children to work through their anxiety and fears. Play develops skills in all areas of development: cognitive, physical, social/emotional, and communication. Play promotes healthy habits as children engage the world around them. Play allows children a nonjudgmental opportunity to test new ideas and make connections between past experiences and current investigations. When children make decisions during play they begin to make the connection between their choices and natural consequences of those choices. Children develop self-control, a critical life skill, as they experience delayed gratification, negotiating with others, and the regulation of their feelings. Play also promotes risk taking as children interact spontaneously with materials and their environment. Exploring the unknown develops mental flexibility and promotes executive function.
Play is an integral part of development for all mammals including humans. Play is instinctive and learning how to play is just as important as anything that comes from that play. It is through play that children learn essential social and emotional skills. They learn how to get along with others, how to deal with difficult people, how to get their needs met as they also develop characteristics of empathy, nurturing, kindness, and generosity. Children thrive when they have opportunities to exercise their curiosity, do things they enjoy, and experiment with the world around them. Without these opportunities, their development is arrested.
Research indicates that maximum brain development occurs by four years of age. It follows that much of this essential development occurs before entering kindergarten. The role of play is much greater in preschool than at any other time in development. This raises a question about the amount of time young children spend playing computer games in isolation or time spent watching television entertainment. If playing with others is essential to brain development, what impact has technology already had on a generation where the television was often used as a babysitter and children were far less likely to go out to play with neighborhood kids as past generations of children.
Children of the ’50s and ’60s spent much of their day outside in the sunshine playing baseball, riding bikes, visiting the park playground, or having an adventure at a nearby creek or pond. The world is a different place today. Safety concerns mean that children have lost an enormous amount of the autonomy afforded previous generations. Memories of building forts, biking for miles to go to a swimming hole in the creek, fishing in the river, building rafts, camping out on an island in the river for days, and hours spent hunting with my rifle are simply not possible for children today. Parents are rightly concerned about the potential harm to children they witness on the nightly news. Families are busy, both parents often work, extended family are not part of the household, and neighborhoods are not the communities of support they once were. The time children spend playing has decreased since the 1960’s. The new challenges and different demands on our time have changed the way communities once nurtured our children. The need to develop children into healthy, thriving, vibrant adults has not changed. It is just as important to children as love, education, and sleep.
The decline of play in the childhood experience will have a lasting impact. Research demonstrates that without play, children’s social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development is compromised. Children will develop lacking imagination and creativity. They will possess a lower capacity for communication. They will have a greater affinity toward violence and aggression. This will predictably change human nature multiplying the many problems already afflicting children and society. If we do not invest in play, we will invest in more prisons and hospitals as the incidence of physical and mental illness increases. We need to recognize the importance of play not only to children’s learning and early education, but to shaping well-rounded individuals and creating a civil society.
Baby Monster Group is a company focused on giving children of any age, gender and economic background an equal opportunity to learn STEM.
LEARN MORE about our first product, a STEAM toy called the Interactive Stage: http://igg.me/at/bmgstage. The Interactive Stage was designed for young learners (K-3) to do what they love to do- role play and show and tell. This “toy” has been developed for children who might not be interested in the STEM toys out in the marketplace. After 4 years of research and development we are now raising money for our first production run of the Interactive Stage.