Learning through Play
by: Lois Geiger, Assistant Head of Early Childhood
Children learn best by doing. Learning is the process of acquiring new information and transferring that new knowledge from the short-term memory into the long-term memory. Research suggests that the most effective means of learning is through an active hands-on approach, for the young child this process unfolds during play. Play provides access to learning in all content areas for young children.
Why do we encourage dramatic play?
Oral language ability is the foundation for all literacy development. A child’s oral language ability in early childhood directly correlates to learning to read, and is a predictor for reading comprehension skills in later years. Dramatic play fosters literacy skills as children collaborate utilizing both receptive and expressive oral language vocabulary to create narratives they then bring to life through play. The oral stories they create are the precursor to the stories they will later learn to write. Teachers can gently guide play to focus the on development of vocabulary or background knowledge relevant to the classroom experience by selecting certain props to accentuate imaginative play.
For example a unit on Community Helpers lends itself to having a dramatic play area stocked with costumes for doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers, and more. Children are given the opportunity to try on different versions of their adults selves through the experience of imaginative play while they explore the use of language during the process. The written component of language can be easily folded into dramatic play when teachers choose to incorporate writing and drawing materials into the center allowing children to experiment with this element of literacy development in a meaningful context.
Is there more to building blocks?
Blocks represent active, dynamic and innovative learning with a developmentally appropriate tool. Building with blocks supports science, technology, engineering, art, and math also known as STEAM. When a child builds a tower with blocks they are incorporating multiple elements of STEAM spontaneously and learning through trial and error.
Children experience fundamental concepts of geometry, numeracy, spatial relations, gravity, and force in authentic ways while playing with blocks. Block play also supports the development of 21st Century Skills such as collaborating, creativity, critical thinking, and communication. The humble wooden block is a powerhouse of learning and teaching opportunities.
What impact can art make?
The art center is another important element of the early childhood curriculum. Art for the young child should be process centered rather than product driven. Children enjoy art for the experience of mixing paint together to see what happens or discovering what you can make with glue and torn paper. The sense of wonder for the child is in the process of “doing” art. Teachers can foster exploration and creativity by providing students with a range of interesting materials and the freedom to experiment.
The teacher’s selection of art materials and activity is also useful for supporting both fine and gross motor development. Tearing paper and squeezing a bottle of glue builds muscles in fingers and hands that are needed for the fine motor control necessary to hold a pencil and write. Standing at the easel and painting builds muscles in the arms, shoulders and back as a child crosses the midline of the body to make large stokes of paint across the paper. These large muscle groups are important for a child to be able to sit up in a chair at a desk and hold their writing instrument correctly to form letters on paper, use a touch screen on an iPad, or keyboard on the computer.
To the casual observer, life in the early childhood classroom may look like a chaotic, noisy, messy world full of children doing nothing but playing. For the young child that play is their work, and they are fully engaged in it. When you ask a young child what they did at school, they are likely to answer, “I played!” Indeed they have but what they do not realize is that their teachers have thoughtfully crafted the structure that supports this dynamic learning in action.