If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you have probably picked up on the idea that learning through play is really at the heart of early education. Research is continuing to show how toddler, preschoolers (and even early elementary kids) learn best through play, not rigorous academics.
How this really works in our kids' daily lives, however, is often hard to see. As parents, we see our kids playing, but we may not pick up on the learning that's really going on. That's why I think many adults do not value the playful learning approach and why we have seen such a proliferation of "academic" preschools.
Ironically, the connection between play, problem-solving, and learning was really clarified for me after reading an odd combination of articles--piece about early childhood education and a research piece on problem solving. How do these two relate?
Play in Early Education: The Intersection of Knowledge and SociabilityEven young kids have gained knowledge about the world around them (e.g., trucks are vehicles with wheels) and they use that knowledge in play with other kids to test ideas and learn new ideas. For example: Tina and Elliot are playing with vehicles on a ramp. Tina's car is small, Elliot's truck is larger. While rolling the vehicles on the ramp, Tina notices that her car rolls faster and a longer distance than Elliot's large truck. She asks why and they begin talking about reasons why the car would go faster than the truck. With the guidance of a skilled teacher, they learn that the car goes faster because it is smaller and shorter. By interacting with each other, and through the guidance of an adult, the kids learned some new ideas through playing with vehicles.
Problem-Solving: The Engine for LearningIn the example above, how did the learning actually happen? If you look closely you will see that problem-solving is really the key component. The kids had a problem they did not know how to solve--why is one vehicle going faster than another? Research is showing that problem-solving is really the engine for learning in children. Another key point is that problem-solving seems to have less to with raw intelligence, but with the child's ability to interact with others (the social aspect) to use and interpret the knowledge they have towards the completion of a goal.
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