“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
That simple proverb may seem wearied and overused, but at its heart, it holds some truth: People need balance in life, especially balance between their imaginations and their intellect. But work and play don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Play and learning can be combined. In fact, many experts, from educators to psychologists, believe play is learning. They’ve discovered that it develops a host of cognitive and emotional foundations essential for later life. Even Plato knew this more than 2,300 years ago:
“Our children from their earliest years must take part in all the more lawful forms of play, for if they are not surrounded with such an atmosphere they can never grow up to be well conducted and virtuous citizens.”
Current trends push kids to learn more and learn early, with approaches to teaching that are usually reserved for higher grade levels. The hopeful result is that the more one learns early on, the better. Some experts believe it doesn’t quite have the effect intended. They believe the push for absorbing a great deal of knowledge at a young age can have negative effects on development. They figure that students who just sit and consume information for the sake of gaining more information lack the opportunity for real-world engagement and critical thinking. Teacher-directed instruction and mass testing have pushed kids to be information consumers who learn facts, figures, and historical narratives with the basic goals of getting a good grade or passing a test.
Play is often viewed as that—just play, or recreational activities with no goal other than to have fun. Some people, however, insist it is much more. Those who encourage play, and play as learning, say kids need to be free to discover and imagine. Play involves exploration, experimentation, and cognitive engagement. All perform a role in academic success and success in career paths, and they’re important for leadership and innovative thinking. Education experts have developed a comprehensive list of how different forms of play lead to serious intellectual, physical, and emotional benefits. With a focus on activities such as games, puzzles, drawing, and writing, play helps students learn no matter where they are. Playing board games in particular encourages critical and strategic thinking and opens the door for teamwork experiences.
[bctt tweet=”Play involves exploration, experimentation, and cognitive engagement.”]
Play helps children engage the world around them, and engaging it is the first step to understanding it. Play-to-learn advocates promote play as an essential component of learning that goes hand-in-hand with traditional academic instruction. There’s even a formal gathering for like-minded people. The Cincinnati Museum Center hosts a Learning Through Play Conference for educators and parents. Separate events are curated for each group.
Rote teaching is bad. Experimentation is good.
Getting children to learn more, quicker, and at a younger age, has been a top priority among Parents and Policy Makers. This is great. However, the trouble is that a majority of people think that most learning is done in a school setting. Parents should then act like teachers while teachers and policy makers need to justify their investment in early childhood education. Creativity, playtime and imagination corners get replaced by standardized testing and rote teaching. Learning at home then becomes focused lessons to produce particular kinds of knowledge. But what about play as a learning tool? A way for children to make new discoveries through experimentation and observation?
We don’t want to produce a bunch of students that just know how to imitate but also know how to innovate.
Children have been learning and developing for thousands of years, before the invention of schools. Observation is one of the key components to a child’s ability to learn and think critically. “Experimental studies show that even the youngest children are naturally driven to imitate.” Multiple studies have been done where adults will manipulate a particular item while young children observe. Whether it be turning a light on in a box or performing various combinations on a toy to make music. Without any explicit instruction, the young children observed and created solutions to a problem. They did not just copy mindlessly but carefully observed which motions worked to make something operate. This is “active learning”. When kids play with new toys they act like scientists performing experiments. They want to know what will give them the best results and teach them about how the world works.
Teaching has its benefits, but explicit instruction can also be limiting. When a child recognizes he or she is being taught, they are more likely just to reproduce what has been shown instead of creating something new. The kind of teaching that comes with schools and parenting these days pushes children more towards imitation and away from innovation. This information age demands creativity, but we are limiting the creative outlets for children. We need to let them learn as much as we need to teach them.
“To stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play and the childlike desire for recognition.” – Albert Einstein
It’s important for kids to think and wonder. Which is why our copyrighted discovery sheets inside each book are designed to elicit comments, ideas, and exploration. To make books come alive as learning tools. Even before kids can read, they learn about physics, motion, sequencing, processes, emotions, storylines, and different behaviors. A child’s naturally evolved ability to learn is more suited to creatively solving a problem than the teaching methods over the last two centuries. We want to encourage learning, innovation, and creativity. By allowing them to come to their conclusions, they recognize that there can be more than one way to problem solve or even think.
Kids Read Now, and elementary reading programs are designed to get parents involved in a child’s learning while letting kids observe and learn on their own. We want to produce students that know more than how to imitate. We want them to discover how to innovate. The Discovery Sheets are guides for exploration, and there is no one right answer. Rote teaching has its place, but it does not teach everything. We need to stop limiting creative outlets for children and start letting them explore their minds. Let young children get into everything and let them actively learn.
There has been a lot of debate lately about the importance of physical education in school curriculums. Many schools have cut PE funding or the programs have taken a back seat to “teaching the test”. The focus on raising standardized test scores has negatively affected other areas of education. Important ones. Such as Physical Education which is essential to a child’s development physically and mentally.
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends 60 minutes of physical activity a day for children and adolescents. If you’ve watched professional football in the last 5 years you may have noticed a campaign called Play 60. This campaign encourages kids to get out and play for at least 60 minutes a day; using popular NFL players and kids of all ages. Besides the fact that this play or physical activity helps reduce obesity and obesity-related issues in students it helps them focus, learn and be attentive during stationary lessons. The more active, the better the academic performance.
“Exercise directly affects the development and cognitive ability of the brain.”
Studies from the CDC, Columbia University, the New York City Health Department and Department of Education and the Universities of West Virginia, Illinois and California have all published research that supports this need for physical education in school systems. Exercise directly affects the development and cognitive ability of the brain. It positively impacts a child’s ability to learn, retain and think at a higher level. According to Active Living Research, “In some cases, more time in physical education leads to improved grades and standardized test scores.”
Besides the improved grades and brain function physical activity cultivates it also helps with a sense of social connectedness and drop-out rates. At risk students are more likely to attend class when interscholastic sports are offered. Every student, regardless of financial situation, should have access to quality education and the tools to succeed outside of the classroom. Physical education can tie all of these issues together.
“Every student, regardless of financial situation, should have access to quality education and the tools to succeed outside of the classroom.”
During the summer months as we encourage our kids to go outside and play, swim and get dirty, we should encourage reading as well. They are exercising their bodies which helps their brain so why not support both. Kids Read Now! is like the Play 60 campaign. Both are working towards a common goal to help develop and positively influence children and adolescents. We want to give them every opportunity to succeed. Physical activity helps create eager-to-learn kids and Kids Read Now is providing the tools necessary for that success. Who knows, maybe they will begin to practice both on their own.