When Did Kids Stop Learning Through Play?

Learning through play

Learning through play is not just an education and psychology term used by child development specialists, but a fact that every parent should be aware of. The way children learn things about themselves and the surrounding world is different from the way we adults find out new information. Our little ones use play to make sense of the world around them and to develop cognitive and social skills. The problem is that nowadays children are being given increasingly fewer chances to learn through play, with excessive screen time being one of the main negative aspects affecting child development.

What is learning through play?

Learning through play is the practice of discovering new things by using play. The amazing potential of play based learning has often been ignored in the last decades, but there is an increasing number of schools that focus on play and its vital importance in the learning process. Schools such as those inspired by Montessori education advocate for “meaningful play”, a process with the following characteristics:

  • The child choses what he or she wants to do;
  • The activity should be fun and enjoyable for the child;
  • The activity encourages spontaneous actions instead of following a script;
  • The child is driven by intrinsic motivation because they have chosen the activity;
  • A safe environment where kids can experiment new ideas in a risk-free manner is ensured.

In order to understand learning through play better, we need to look at the opposite situation – for example, children being involved in a lesson where their only role is to listen. With play based learning, children do not passively listen to a lesson, but may take on roles and create their own rules.

Today, educators are encouraged to include play into the learning process and this approach is highly successful with today’s students. When teachers know how to implement play based learning, kids never get bored and tired at school.

Why learning through play shouldn’t stop at preschool level

Learning through play

When children move to the next level and start school, they often find it difficult to adapt to the specific and requirements of formal education. The situation can be even worse for the one-quarter of children who start school without being developmentally ready. The solution for ensuring a smooth transition between preschool and school years is using learning through play. This strategy may consist of a variety of methods, from make-believe play to using engaging kids’ activity books.

Instruction needs to be balanced with play in the first years of school; when play is taken out of school, what we see is higher levels of mentally ill children and poor academic results. As long as schools are designed to improve outcomes for all children and the benefits of learning through play are well-known, we need to integrate play-based learning into school curricula and also use it at home.

Imagine a child is taught things about water in science class – instead of a formal lesson on the properties of water, teachers can allow children to play with water and create their own hypotheses on how water behaves in certain situations. After students make their own observations, teachers can consolidate their findings by presenting the information in the traditional manner as well.

Reasons for learning through play stopping

So far, we have been talking about the importance of play based learning at school, but this beneficial practice that allows children to reach their maximum potential doesn’t stop there. It actually begins at home and parents play a major role in children’s access to learning through play resources, such as kids activity bags or just a bucket of water and a few water toys they can use to make their own experiments.

The truth is that enabling your child to use play based learning can be difficult sometimes. Things can get messy, the child may need constant parent supervision, and activities can be time and resource-intensive.

So, it is easy to understand why parents offer screen time to children when they are not able to supervise them closely or are too tired to play and just want to relax a little.

Negative effects of excessive screen time

There is nothing wrong with watching quality programs as long as the child is older than 2 and they don’t exceed 1 hour of screen time per day. Quantity is key here – if you allow your child to watch TV or play on the tablet/smartphone frequently, you will probably notice negative effects, sooner or later.

Leading educators, academics and teachers are sounding the alarm over the impact excessive screen time is having on Australian children’s reading, writing and ability to concentrate in school. Too much screen time has also been linked to other negative effects, such as:

  • Poor vocabulary

Robyn Ewing, a Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Sydney, warns parents on the devastating impact that excessive screen time has on vocabulary and literacy: “Children who have been sat in front of a screen from a very early age start school with thousands and thousands of words less, vocabulary-wise, than those who have been meaningfully communicated with.”

  • Lack of social skills

Kids need to spend time in the company of other children to develop social skills and help them develop into well-rounded adults. Those who spend too much time on devices have limited face-to-face contact with others and lack in social and people skills. By not developing these important skills future adult relationships for the child may be impeded and simple social etiquette will suffer if these normal social skills are not developed during childhood.

  • Lack of motivation and perseverance

A child who spends a lot of time in front of screens gets used to receiving instant gratification all the time. Teachers have observed that these children are always looking for entertainment, but rarely create something of themselves. Their engagement levels in class are low and such students often expect the answer from teachers instead of being curious about the surrounding world. Even older kids know that screen time is not good for their brains, but their phones have turned into an addiction they are unable to control.

What can you do as a parent?

Doing your part in fighting the global epidemic of too much screen time can be quite difficult when you are a busy parent. Children are not the only thing requiring our attention and there are multiple sources of stress that keep us wired all the time and unable to relax and play with our children. It is understandable for parents to need a bit of silence by keeping their kids busy with something interesting.  The good news is that a smartphone or a tablet is not the only solution; you can always offer fun activity books for kids to keep them engaged and happy.

Busy Nippers is an Australian provider of kids’ activity books and other items that are a true delight to curious children. Every year, we help more than 3,000 clients nationally create a family friendly environment for their customers by providing kids activity books that keeps little ones busy for over an hour. We also help parents keep their children entertained whether they are home or on the go. Check out our home activity packs and choose the one that will help your child learn new things in the most efficient and fun manner!

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