Kids Learning Through Play
Playing has always been an important role since the early ages of human history. Many philosophers and scholars studied and developed theories by trying to define the importance of play in promoting child development.
Aristotle is inclined to consider play as an unworthy activity for adults; yet claiming its importance in the personality development and cognitive activity training. Moving forward, thinkers from the 19th century, such as Fröbel, defined play as the very foundation of pedagogy, building some of the most important theories on early childhood education which is still being studied present day.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the theories on the child education and the educational value of play have been further developed and promoted by Maria Montessori and other scholars, such as the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga. Johan even wrote an essay entitled “Homo ludens”, which defined play as the “foundation of every culture and social organization”. The general consensus of the different theories is that play is considered as a vital activity for the child. Play is a fundamental tool for his psychological, somatic and cognitive development and it forms the basis of the first perception of himself and of personal identity construction.
Should play be intended as an educational activity, the first and most important characteristic element of play is freedom to choose. In simpler terms, the child must be free to choose what and when to play. The imposition, if not given the choice, takes away the playful component and therefore the game itself. In fact, a child does not choose to play for a specific reason but only because it is fun.
During the first few years of his life, the child will not make choices when it comes to play. This means that the child will perceive playing as an end-to-itself activity and that it is something that brings well-being, happiness and fun. Only at a later stage, the child will start making decisions as he plays. This can be in the form of choosing which toy or game he likes most. The choice that the child makes has been previously developed with him being allowed to try and play with a large variety of toys.
In the very young stages of a child’s life, play takes on mostly a cognitive role. As the child progresses, during the second phase of his development, play gains brand new dimensions. From experimenting on his own, building a relationship with the toys, making choices regarding the level of fun they provide, the toddler will now turn towards his siblings or friends, looking for more fun by interacting at a social level. Toys, in this developmental stage, will then become a social mean to interact with other children. Playing together with someone else is then the first experience of sociality that we live in childhood. It is a positive experience, which must be encouraged and developed, because it can potentially lead our children to develop good communication and social skills, teaching them the value of collaboration, cooperation, solidarity, empathy and giving them a first sense belonging to a group.
Play, with its characteristics, timing, and conditions, is also the primary tool for learning, managing and controlling emotions. The emotions involved in playing includes the curiosity to try a new game; the thrill of winning or being able to overcome a difficulty; the satisfaction of the achieved goal; and the frustration of the defeat or the first failure. All of the above-mentioned are just some of the feelings that will present themselves while playing, transforming play as a real gym for the personality. Allowing the child to follow the rules of any game helps the child exercise discipline and respect, which certainly can have positive effects not only in educational sense but also of social integration and maturity.
Moreover, play can turn into a a versatile tool of education and communication amongst family members. Play is able to improve and consolidate the emotional bond between parents and children and help build a positive form of competition between siblings.
Toys And The Educational Play
Some may argue that all games can teach something. However, a game can only be defined as truly educational if it contains explicitly presented educational content and it helps to achieve a specific goal of child growth.
Educational games are not just used as a tool for recreation and entertainment. It also allows the child to learn something new, clarify little-known concept, and to strengthen their knowledge. Through educational games, the transfer of the concept to learn does not take place directly. Instead of being explained by adults or by reading a written text, learning happens in a less direct manner. Learning is done through a rich path of entertainment, activities and experiences.
Depending on the type of game and the content that it wants to transmit, the experience path will vary and it will contain the means to help the child learn and memorize concepts. This forms the educational basis of the game. The learn-as-you-play activities are diverse and will generally invite the child to discover, experiment, create something original, all seasoned with a strong playful component, which is precisely the key to shape a child’s interest.
However, toys for all ages do not have to be split into two well-defined groups of educational and fun-only toys respectively. As mentioned above, the play activities involve all aspects of the child development. Some sports-related toys like skateboards, rollers and bicycles are toys aimed to develop motor skills and coordination; while board games, building games, drawing and coloring are aimed to develop cognitive skills, three-dimensional perception and imagination. When deciding on the nature of toys that we will be providing to the child, what we need to do is to ensure there is a diversity in the types of toys. The decision of which toys he prefer will then fall on the child to choose after testing the novelty. This will allow the child to be free to play and not forced into a limited selection.
Finding The Right Balance
In order for an educational game to be successful and therefore able to reach the training objectives for which it was designed for, it is important that the educational and ludic components of the toy are perfectly balanced. If the educational component prevails too much, the game will be too similar to a study exercise full of numbers and words without any charm and color. That said, the child will not be attracted to it as it will be deemed as boring. On the contrary, if the playful component is too overwhelming, such as with an excessive dose of images, photos, materials and accessories but a lack of content and interactivity, you will run the risk of losing the educational purpose of this activity.
To conclude, the balance and the mix of these components are crucial in making the game a successful educational tool. With the right blend, the child will be constantly engaged and attracted, enabling learning and entertainment concurrently.
The Development Phases
As an instrument of growth and training, the act of playing can have different objectives. The objectives of any toy is in accordance to the age range of the children to whom it is addresses; and the skills and/or abilities the toy intends to develop. The skills and/or abilities may be more skewed towards the motor-type, such as training on coordination; or it may be intellectual-type, such as memory and the association of ideas.
It will therefore be up to the adult to choose a game that is neither too easy nor difficult, and suitable for the age group of the children to whom it is addressed and to calibrate the number of stimuli, rules and educational methods based on their characteristics and needs.
Generally, we can say that the play develops in stages or phases, which is in line with the development of the child. At the beginning, the play is based solely and exclusively on the principle of pleasure and fun. After which, it will slowly transform together with the child to something more intellectual and challenging.
Birth to 2 Years Old
1- From birth to 2 years old, the first stage includes games aimed at developing the brain functions and capacities. It also includes activities which require movements. This stage mainly focuses on something called sensorial intelligence. At this stage, toddlers play for fun and continuously repeats the same movements. They will not get tired of the repetitiveness. The toys at this stage can range from toy cars, trains, and stuffed animals; to kicking a ball in the protected environment of your home or garden; or to the first musical toy, which reproduces the sounds of the farm animals. At this initial phase, we can offer our children the first educational games, often represented by interactive toys or books for children that help them to recognize simple shapes, colors, characters, and animals.
2 Years Old to 7 Years Old
2 – From 2 to 7 years old, with the increased brain activity, a pre-operative intelligence develops. This will allow the child understand the reality around him and allows him represent his emotions in his own way. In this phase, the child experiments the symbolic game using different tools: from the representations made with paper, pencils and felt-tip pens; to the first stories invented with his dolls and puppets acting as protagonists; up to the first assembly of wooden or plastic constructions such as first approach to many-pieces puzzles and memo games aimed to train memory and reasoning. In this phase, his creative talents are also applied, with the first approach to musical instruments, and fantasy is at the apex, so any object can be symbolically transformed into another and used to play.
7 Years Old to 11 Years Old
3 – From 6-7 years old up to 11-12 years old, the child is able to make small arguments and to understand and accept the concept of rule. Even if initially he will tend to circumvent or address the rules to his advantage, in time, he will understand the stable nature and the function of the rules, gaining even at the level of involvement in the game itself.
Children at this age will begin to strongly feel the need for social events and the desire to interact with their peers. A possibility to provide them with such opportunities is to propose a sport that will initially be experienced as a game, or an alternative activity to play in a group. It is important to enrich the child’s life and personal experience by encouraging him to spend time away from the television, outside of the house. An option can be scouting as it involves spending time outdoors, in the middle of nature. It also focuses on teamwork and interaction with other scouts.
Over 12 Years Old
4 – After 11 years, the child has become almost an adolescent and has internalized and understood the sense of the rules. He is then able to make complex reasoning and to process a lot of information. He can then move on to the game of seriousness and classification. It may therefore be a perfect time to introduce board games and even computer games.
If used rationally, technology can be a valuable support for creativity education and a useful support for learning. In fact, both creative and commercial games are available in the market and online. Such activities will introduce children to the world of music; to the art of drawing and writing; and to learning foreign languages. Such educational games can be a new approach for learning. These innovative solutions encourage children to study and devote themselves to free writing and reading, much more than the traditional frontal teaching method.
Structuring the class assignments as if they were quiz games, with questions about the geography lesson or the creative problems to be solved on the scientific theorems, can be a good way to exploit the characteristics of the game in favor of school learning. If the study of history or mathematics can be done while having fun, perhaps interacting with educational videos on a tablet, learning will become a pleasure, and the same can be applied to scientific and linguistic games.
The Importance of Play
To conclude, it is human nature to enjoy a toy or game with a tinge of playful element. Through the years, toys have slowly evolved to include more educational factors, to help children grow and develop crucial life skills and abilities. It is important to allow your child to play with a variety of toys to help them be more well-rounded and better prepared for the world.