Children of all cultures and backgrounds play. Play is omnipresent in the developing minds of children, as well as young animals. Play is an agent that promotes early brain development, strengthens language skills, the executive functions of memory and attention, mathematic and spatial skills, scientific thinking, and emotional development. There is an evident correlation between play and cognitive progression, which grants breakthroughs in conducting education.
Guided play maintains the free and fun aspects of play, while focusing on education goals, fostering an opportunity for imaginative exploration. For children, play and activity is about make-believe, discovery, amusement, and socialization. The difference between free and guided play is gentle adult guidance to lead towards the learning goal, while allowing the creativity to be nurtured. This innovative approach to making learning an active experience has shown to be a successful pedagogical tool in a variety of subjects, particularly mathematics and science.
Parents, educators, and policy makers want to ensure that today’s youth will grow into tomorrow’s successful adults. The time for childhood development is short, and the expectations are increasingly high. Traditional learning is direct instruction, typically using flash cards, repetitive lessons, and over explanation with a lack of discovery. Playful learning through guided play supports children taking a lead in their instruction, while being directed to the points and concepts that are vital to education standards and goals. Current and expanding research shows that guided play provides and delivers the same outcomes in children’s learning as traditional teaching, while being a more effective teaching tool.
Research finds that children who engage in guided play activities were more likely to learn target information. Additionally, they are more likely to retain abstract themes than the children who were given direct instruction, while children engaging in free play, without any adult support, overall are less likely to stumble upon the same realizations. A study with preschool aged children taught about shapes using guided play, free play, and conventional instruction. The children who engaged in guided play lesson were able to identify more atypical shapes than those who participated in direct lessons, and more shapes overall than those who participated in free play. The role of adults in guided play is to support the children’s choices, asking open-ended questions to gently shape behavior without controlling it.
Here at High Touch High Tech, we see the value of a hands-on, discovery style of learning. Each day we get to see students come to realizations, all the while using an active imagination. Teachers and the curriculum they abide by have yet to admit guided play and aren’t given the tools to do so. Our students lead in their own education, and it provides them an autonomy of their actions. Students are just learning how the world operates by using their imagination to dream of the possibilities and discovering new information each day. STEM education is the key to making sense of our world, thus being the single greatest influence on the innovations which will change the world.
Hassinger-Das, B. “The Case of Brain Science and Guided Play: A Developing Story.” Naeyc, May 2017. Vol. 72, No. 2.
Weisberg DS, Zosh JM. “How Guided Play Promotes Early Childhood Learning. “In: Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Peters RDeV, eds. Pyle A, topic ed. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development [online]. Retrieved from http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/play-based-learning/according-experts/how-guided-play-promotes-early-childhood-learning