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What does"learn through play" mean to you?


Learning through play  

41 members have voted

  1. 1. Does "learning through play" primarily mean

    • Child initiated and led imaginative play
      22
    • Adult planned and led learning games
      2
    • About an even mix of the two
      14
    • Other
      3


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As I read various things, some here and some in Facebook, I'm starting to see that there are two different meanings when people say their children learn though playing. In practice, I'm sure there is some overlap, but it seems like some people use this the way I do, that as children are playing, using their imagination, manipulating the world around them, building things, etc, they are learning lots and lots which makes them stronger, more capable, more observant, better at communication, etc. Others seem to mean primarily that lessons for young children should be done by making the lessons into games, like throwing bean bags at letters or math questions, flash card games, etc. Often, though, people just mention that children, particularly young children, learn best through play. I'm not knocking either way, but I'm curious. When you use or hear this phrase, "learn through play" are you primarily describing child-initiated/controlled play or adult-initiated/planned play?

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8 minutes ago, xahm said:

As I read various things, some here and some in Facebook, I'm starting to see that there are two different meanings when people say their children learn though playing. In practice, I'm sure there is some overlap, but it seems like some people use this the way I do, that as children are playing, using their imagination, manipulating the world around them, building things, etc, they are learning lots and lots which makes them stronger, more capable, more observant, better at communication, etc. Others seem to mean primarily that lessons for young children should be done by making the lessons into games, like throwing bean bags at letters or math questions, flash card games, etc. Often, though, people just mention that children, particularly young children, learn best through play. I'm not knocking either way, but I'm curious. When you use or hear this phrase, "learn through play" are you primarily describing child-initiated/controlled play or adult-initiated/planned play?

My kids did a huge amount of free play (they're teens now, so free play has been left behind mostly), which is what I think you're thinking of. I did not insert myself in their play usually. I just let them at it. I say most of their "learning through play" occurred this way. I also initiated play in which I used a normal plaything in education. So counting money? Don't do a worksheet, play store. Need to practice writing? Write a menu, and I will order the food off of it. I also did this when they begged "play with me, Mama"; I am not a very good playmate. I also consider this adult-planned style learning through play. 

The playing with flashcards bit I wouldn't consider play per se. I would call it incorporating movement into education (to translate it into educationalese). My kids used to jump on number lines, run to find the correct answer on post-it notes around the room, and jump on the trampoline while skip counting. While more fun for them than sitting at the kitchen table and filling in a worksheet, I am not sure I would consider that learning through play. 

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While I don't use that particular expression of "learning through play", with my own DSs, I saw that learning happened in both child-led informal play, as well as with adult-developed games and educational fun activities and projects.

Children gain all sorts of problem-solving skills, creative and imagination development, cooperative play skills, self-entertainment abilities, eye/hand coordination, and much more through child-led "imaginative play".

Children can also learn other kinds of skills (such as turn taking, strategy, analysis, fact memorization, etc.) through playing more formal "educational games" with adults or other children.

Why not go for both? And with children under 3rd grade age, I would MUCH more heavily weight towards the child-led "imaginative play", as that is much more developmentally appropriate for pre-school and early elementary aged children, and will provide the most overall variety of brain development and skill set development. JMO!

Wishing you all the BEST in your educational adventures. Warmest regards, Lori D.

Edited by Lori D.
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When I was a teacher, I considered center time learning through play. Now, I would just consider that work time. I still do file folder games with my child, but in lieu of a worksheet or something more formal. 


To me, child lead “learning through play” is just regular play. I know the value of it and I encourage it. Even protect it. I don’t necessarily distinguish it as learning though. 

 Learning through play in the context of a school day or a specific lesson is an informal and relaxed way to teach. 

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I always thought "learning through play" meant when kids play games that imitate what they see adults doing -- like when they play house, or pretend to be teachers, etc etc.

My kids are small, and we give them lots and lots of time for free play. I have really good memories of playing with my own brother, and it's fun for me to see my kids developing these elaborate imaginative worlds together. I don't know if they're building skills or learning, but I love to see it.

I do, also, sometimes play "games" with them as part of their school work. I'm putting "games" in quotes because they're not necessarily going to be anyone's favorite games. It's more like I try to find playful ways for them to practice skills, but I'm in control the whole time; this is a formal "game" with rules. Sometimes this goes really well, and sometimes it backfires -- it really depends on how I present it. I used to say "we're going to play a fun game!" and then they'd see through me and feel disappointed. Now I just plow ahead with my plan and they are pleasantly surprised by the playful stuff.

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All this is interesting. My kids are little, eight and under, and are fantastic about playing. They play deep, immersive, complicated games, they mess with stuff, they invent things (that generally don't work very well, but that's part of it). I've been focusing on getting school done quickly and well to give them lots of time for this play. I feel like adding in "fun" elements that slow down the process would generally lead to less overall fun as well as less overall learning. It's been interesting to me that as we've gone through BFSU (Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding), almost all the demonstrations are old news to them, things they'd already discovered through their own play. Our brief lessons help give them vocabulary to describe what they already knew.

When I was in college taking education classes(middle and high school level), we were encouraged to make things "project based" and gamified, while also being told we'd need to make sure to hit a whole list of standards, do test prep, stay on top of paperwork, etc. To me, this sounded essentially impossible to do in the time constraints, and I'd seen young teachers at my middle and high schools try that sort of thing with us and completely burn out. I think that's part of why I'm suspicious about "gamified lessons."

I'm confident with how things are working with my children, but I don't know that what is typical for them is typical for all children, so I'm curious to hear about other people's experiences and what they've learned by reading and studying. I'd hate to advise a new homeschooler at the park, for example, based only on my experience if it turns out my experience is particularly unusual.

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1 minute ago, xahm said:

All this is interesting. My kids are little, eight and under, and are fantastic about playing. They play deep, immersive, complicated games, they mess with stuff, they invent things (that generally don't work very well, but that's part of it). I've been focusing on getting school done quickly and well to give them lots of time for this play. I feel like adding in "fun" elements that slow down the process would generally lead to less overall fun as well as less overall learning. It's been interesting to me that as we've gone through BFSU (Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding), almost all the demonstrations are old news to them, things they'd already discovered through their own play. Our brief lessons help give them vocabulary to describe what they already knew.

When I was in college taking education classes(middle and high school level), we were encouraged to make things "project based" and gamified, while also being told we'd need to make sure to hit a whole list of standards, do test prep, stay on top of paperwork, etc. To me, this sounded essentially impossible to do in the time constraints, and I'd seen young teachers at my middle and high schools try that sort of thing with us and completely burn out. I think that's part of why I'm suspicious about "gamified lessons."

I'm confident with how things are working with my children, but I don't know that what is typical for them is typical for all children, so I'm curious to hear about other people's experiences and what they've learned by reading and studying. I'd hate to advise a new homeschooler at the park, for example, based only on my experience if it turns out my experience is particularly unusual.

My kids are/were similar to yours.

Hours of imaginative play with no direction from me other than telling them to keep the volume down or switch locations. I think they learn a ton from it; I consider it important, even essential, for their development; I don't think kids in school or kids whose schedules are packed with adult directed activities have enough (any?) of it; but I wouldn't call it their education.

To me, if a mom or a teacher or a coach came up with the idea and is in charge of implementing it, it's not play. It may very well be worthwhile and important and it may be loads of fun, but it's not free imaginative play.

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13 minutes ago, xahm said:

All this is interesting. My kids are little, eight and under, and are fantastic about playing. They play deep, immersive, complicated games, they mess with stuff, they invent things (that generally don't work very well, but that's part of it). I've been focusing on getting school done quickly and well to give them lots of time for this play. I feel like adding in "fun" elements that slow down the process would generally lead to less overall fun as well as less overall learning. It's been interesting to me that as we've gone through BFSU (Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding), almost all the demonstrations are old news to them, things they'd already discovered through their own play. Our brief lessons help give them vocabulary to describe what they already knew.

When I was in college taking education classes(middle and high school level), we were encouraged to make things "project based" and gamified, while also being told we'd need to make sure to hit a whole list of standards, do test prep, stay on top of paperwork, etc. To me, this sounded essentially impossible to do in the time constraints, and I'd seen young teachers at my middle and high schools try that sort of thing with us and completely burn out. I think that's part of why I'm suspicious about "gamified lessons."

I'm confident with how things are working with my children, but I don't know that what is typical for them is typical for all children, so I'm curious to hear about other people's experiences and what they've learned by reading and studying. I'd hate to advise a new homeschooler at the park, for example, based only on my experience if it turns out my experience is particularly unusual.

I think all kids are really different. My kids play all the time, but they are not discovering scientific principles. They're making up languages and creating imaginary worlds, that kind of thing. Sometimes I hear them using math in their games.

I would have totally agreed with you about not introducing "fun" stuff to slow down lesson times. But it turns out that playful stuff can be really helpful for my kids when they're a little leery about a subject, for example. But yeah, I guess the main thing is that everyone is different!

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If I were to use the term "learn through play" I would be meaning that my kids accidently picked up something useful/important, while just playing with stuff they wanted to play with.

One example I can think of is when my son got a bunch of lego kits for his birthday/Christmas last year.  He sat down and carefully and precisely followed each instructional step, piece by piece, with some very small pieces.  I believe that while he was doing that, he was learning things like how to follow directions, how to focus on the details and also how to set things up efficiently.  He very quickly figured out how to sort the pieces by a grouping that worked best for following the instructions quickly....through a bit of trial and error.  

These were his birthday presents, not something intended to be a learning process.  But I could see the learning happening, and it was fascinating, even though it was kind of a byproduct.  

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15 hours ago, xahm said:

All this is interesting. My kids are little, eight and under, and are fantastic about playing. They play deep, immersive, complicated games, they mess with stuff, they invent things....

This sounds wonderful. My only child doesn’t play like that. When he plays alone, it’s with building toys or outside in the dirt. Sometimes he might want to do messy art or make crafts. I want him to have loads of free play, but he doesn’t like being by himself for more than an hour. 

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To me, “learning through play” is just kids playing.

 

When adults teach in a playful way — to me that is some kind of teaching.  An adult is sharing some knowledge or demonstrating a skill in some way that is playful.  But it’s not kids learning “through” play.  Learning “through” play means “through their own play” to me.
 

 

I would count an adult doing some child-led project or play, with no particular agenda, as “learning through play.”  
 

 

I would also count kids playing with some “educational materials” if it meant a child playing with something for fun, by choice.  

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I have seen kids actually play with flashcards.  I think it exists.  
 

In general I wouldn’t consider flashcard activities to be “learning through play.”

 

 

Edited by Lecka
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https://www.socialthinking.com/Products/group-collaboration-play-problem-solving-scale-assessment
 

This is a really fascinating book, about the development of play skills, with the highest level usually reached by pre-schoolers:  collaborative imaginative play. 
 

It’s mainly for autism parents looking for ways to help develop play skills.  
 

But it’s totally a book about the importance of imaginative play for children, and talks a lot about all the skills they gain from play.  
 

 
 

 

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On 9/21/2020 at 4:47 PM, xahm said:

All this is interesting. My kids are little, eight and under, and are fantastic about playing. They play deep, immersive, complicated games, they mess with stuff, they invent things (that generally don't work very well, but that's part of it). I've been focusing on getting school done quickly and well to give them lots of time for this play. I feel like adding in "fun" elements that slow down the process would generally lead to less overall fun as well as less overall learning. It's been interesting to me that as we've gone through BFSU (Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding), almost all the demonstrations are old news to them, things they'd already discovered through their own play. Our brief lessons help give them vocabulary to describe what they already knew.

When I was in college taking education classes(middle and high school level), we were encouraged to make things "project based" and gamified, while also being told we'd need to make sure to hit a whole list of standards, do test prep, stay on top of paperwork, etc. To me, this sounded essentially impossible to do in the time constraints, and I'd seen young teachers at my middle and high schools try that sort of thing with us and completely burn out. I think that's part of why I'm suspicious about "gamified lessons."

I'm confident with how things are working with my children, but I don't know that what is typical for them is typical for all children, so I'm curious to hear about other people's experiences and what they've learned by reading and studying. I'd hate to advise a new homeschooler at the park, for example, based only on my experience if it turns out my experience is particularly unusual.

I think what they encouraged you to do, hard to put into words, but exactly what I did for high school. I never could just do a straight textbook course. We incorporated projects into everything and created our own courses or used projects and field work we were already doing for parts of our courses. We also incorporated test prep by doing some national exams, studying for ACTs, and in subjects.  Hitting standards? whenever I looked at them, I figured we were hitting most of them. If I was developing a course for a co-op or completely from scratch without any prewritten curriculum I would look through the state standards for some ideas of typical things covered. But a teacher friend of mine showed me how my eclectic way of studying English hit all of the standards at one point when I was writing up my class descriptions for college applications. 

My almost haphazard way of doing things would be really hard to replicate in a set amount of months in a classroom setting though. I can see that. 

OP, learning through play, I put a mix of kid led and parent/teacher set up activities. I like curriculum that incorporates some game feeling things for littles. I can throw in some games on the fly to work on skills. But I also try to take advantage of play with very young kids to use those teachable moments as they come up. But a lot of my learning through play is intentional. Does my little get open ended time? Yes. But I don't count that as her learning time most of the time. I'm not there in her head, so I am not thinking about her learning at that moment. When I am there, observing it, I may take advantage of it, by putting ideas into my plans of things she would enjoy that we could expand on like picking up library books on things she was interested in or sharing knowledge with her that I have as it pertains to what she is doing. I think it is all important.

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I think both types of play are important, and try to make time for both. I always intend to give my kids hours upon hours of free play time everyday that is not in any way directed by me or my goals for their education. But I also schedule lots of educational games and play activities into our school time, though mostly just games. Things like Valence, or Noggins Trivia Games, or GeoPuzzles, or even apps like Dragonbox or Starfall. These are games, and my kids definitely consider them playing, even choosing many of our "educational" board games for their own play during freetime, but I do consider them separate from free undirected play. I think there is space in a kid's life for both, and both can hold significant value.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I picked other.  

I believe in the power of child directed play.  I think that most kids, given a rich environment will make the choices that grow the skills they need. But I’ve been both a teacher and a parent of kids who didn’t seek out the kind of experiences they needed to grow necessary skills, either due to life experience such as poverty and neglect, or because of disability.  For those kids I think there are a lot of techniques that can be used they both grow kids skills and encourage them to continue to develop their skills through self selected activity.  We can provoke play by providing toys and materials and props.  We can encourage play by inviting kids to join us in an activity we think they will enjoy.  We can help kids focus on the play by simplifying their environment or adding visuals to support choice making.  We can scaffold play.  I know my son, who came to us at almost 9 needed all of those experiences to get to the point where he could play.  

I also think that “learning through play” requires us to trust the sequencing and uneven  pacing of children’s learning.  Sometimes that’s hard due to an adult’s emotional needs.  Other times it’s hard because there is a genuine need for a skill that a child hasn’t yet sought out.  Other times it’s because a child finds something hard and so avoids it.  So then there is a need for more direct instruction, where the adult tells them to do something. In that case I think that either embedding the instruction in a child’s natural play (e.g: noticing a child who needs to learn concepts of print and encouraging to pretend to write down orders when playing restaurant) or making up or modifying a game to intentionally teach a skill (e.g. I teach a lot of place value through modified monopoly) can be a powerful tool.  It can provide kids with motivation to work on something, or context to make sense of something.  But I agree it’s playing, not play.

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Learning through play (for me) means child initiated and creative. But teachers and parents foster and encourage by placing different and engaging props and toys for the child. When studying the role of the president, we added a red phone, a notebook with a presidential seal, put in a desk, a typewriter (yes, I am that old) etc..to the creative play section. And this was a 2nd grade classroom. 

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

When as children in the 70's we spent hours building huts and damning streams.  Playing pouring water in the bath or paddling pool, playing with balls, bikes, Lego, sewing, coding,dress ups,pets.  All these things allow children to explore how the world works - things fall down, containers are different sizes, cats don't like having their tales pulled and explore different people and behaviours.  Board games are too if they are genuinely fun games but a rather dull game designed to teach one skill isn't.

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I think you are on a very good track, @Xahm IMO.  Although I did vote that I took the phrase to be a mix of both child and adult initiated play, I think children need a lot of free creative play to cement things into their brains, so to speak.  When it came to ‘formal school time’ that was just get down to business eduction with short lessons in the early grades...nothing fancy or fun, just quick and repetitious lessons.  The play was time for them to practice those ideas and skills.  As the adult, I made sure they had access to lots of ‘supplies’ from toys to manipulatives, as well as allowance to use most anything they wanted in our home (within reason).  

Then, I read what @Little Green Leavesleaves said.  That she did introduce games as ‘playful ways for them to practice skills”.  I guess I did do that, too.  Maybe we played Mancala instead of math seatwork on a particular day, but there was, in general, nothing fun about the schoolwork I gave them.  Probably I did that more as they got older and the lessons got longer.  Maybe I found a board game for chemistry to incorporate once in a while or other along those lines.  

In general, I believe in old school quick lessons and providing supplies/toys/tools for their ample free time to use however they see fit.  If they wanted to build a volcano, I said to go for it, but it stressed me out to direct that type of thing, and they seemed to enjoy it less when I did try to direct it.

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