My wife and I have always felt strongly that our kids attend preschools centered on play-based learning. The preschool my 4 year-old twins are currently at is structured this way, as is the previous preschool the twins and Leo (now 7) attended.
“Kids learn through play,” says Deanna Knudsen. “It’s a fact that’s been proven by experts, but also plainly experienced by parents everywhere. Of course, our kids remember the ABC’s when it’s set to a familiar tune. And imaginative play helps us teach important life lessons.
Social-emotional learning along with early reading and math skills happen best when kids are having fun and cooperating with their caregivers and friends. On a personal note, I’m seeing that playful characters like those in the Curious Kingdom are especially motivating! And there are so many other toys and games that foster this positive experience.”
What is Play-Based Learning?
Play-based learning is an educational philosophy of early childhood and primary schooling featuring an emphasis on having young minds make sense of the world around them through play.
So rather than lecture or hit the formal books, it’s much more effective for these young kids to … well, have fun. Play is not just a satisfying experience, but it’s considered so important for human development that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has declared play as a right of every child.
There are many heady papers on it, including this one from the University of New Hampshire’s Early Childhood Education Coaching Initiative:
Play-based learning, specifically guided play, maintains the joy of free play while allowing children to connect authentically with content. When children co-construct their learning with their teachers and peers, they apply it to their own lives making meaningful, personal discoveries as they progress towards learning goals. Children naturally learn through play by engaging in and making sense of their world. Guided play is self-chosen, enjoyable, and process oriented. These opportunities are experiences that are child-directed and teacher-facilitated in which teachers take an active role as intentional planners, observers, and guides.
There is a lot of research on its effectiveness to the point that it’s not really in dispute – but when emphasized at home and in any pre-school environment, it helps with social skills, inspires learning, and helps train young minds to focus and most importantly – be curious.
While play-based learning has always been important to our family, and we’ve made decisions on where to send our four children to school based on it, it was fun for me to dig into the history.
It is not a new idea at all. Steven Bonnay wrote a blog earlier this year that I found particularly interesting, where he stated the idea of this goes as far back as the 1500s, and even attributed to Martin Luther (yes that Martin Luther). Philosopher John Locke coined the famous term “blank slate” in the 17th Century in relation to how “children start out and [then] the environment fills their metaphorical ‘slate.’” German educationalist Friedrich Froebel, the originator of the “Kindergarten System,” was the first to formalize the idea that children learn through play.
And of course, there was Maria Montessori, who “viewed children as a source of knowledge and the educator as a social engineer.” She took the position that children’s senses should be “educated first and then the children’s intellect afterward.” She developed an international early education school starting with the first one in Italy, which opened its doors in 1907.
The goal for us at Playper was to build a plastic-free eco-friendly 100 percent recyclable toy that provides play-based learning. The 22-piece playset is made from our tree-based PlayperBoard™ - it feels real because it’s organic.
Then there is the first thing the kid does with it, which is take the puzzle-like pieces and fit them together, relying on the senses (note: we’re proud we were able to have this be created with no scissors, glue, or tape required).
That usually takes an extra set of hands making it an opportunity for an adult or older sibling to help build it out, which is yet another play-based learning aspect.
The character’s stories are designed to inspire imaginative play and the further creation of stories and role playing. We even carried the philosophy over to our free app, which is extremely interactive and has fun learning games.
Playper’s Education Advisor Adam Seldow, currently Head of Education Partnerships at Roblox, and a former Boston public school math teacher with a PhD in Education from Harvard, certainly has a teacher’s perspective on this topic: “As teachers we’re constantly tinkering with activities that strike the appropriate balance among play, creativity, exploration, and the safe and proper use of technology,” he told me. “And as kids and parents, we love when these activities are fun.”
Looking for opportunities that inspire play-based learning is certainly one of the more important – and enjoyable – aspects of parenting today.