How Do Children Learn Through Play? How Does Teacher Intervention Support Or Limit Learning Through Play
Educational Theory Background
Play and Learning in the British National Curriculum
Advantages of Play
Role of Teacher Interventions
According to Play therapy UK, pay can be defined as: "A physical or mental leisure activity that is undertaken purely for enjoyment or amusement and has no other objective." (Play Therapy UK)
Play in a learning context, on the other hand can be defined as playful learning which comprises both of free play and guided play, in which learning can be done in a playful manner rather that in a strict guided environment that is seriously academic in nature. According to Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Golinkof, (Hirsh-Pasek & Golinkoff, 2009): "Children need to engage in free play to expand their language and social skills, but educators can also structure environments toward a curricular goal through guided play"
Play in literary terms, therefore is an activity that does not have any objective, it is purely for entertainment purposes, whereas play for the purposes of learning can also be called playful learning. Children in their early years are intent on playing as a means to have fun and to entertain them. It is a means for the children to explore the world around them, and an activity that can keep them occupied for hours on end. Learning on the other hand, in the classroom environment is generally taken to be of a serious nature involving serious work.
However, many theories and learning methodologies have come to light today in order to facilitate children to learn, and as children are naturally inclined to play, it can be used as an activity that can help them learn. In fact play enables children to learn through physical exploration and gives them a chance to see for themselves, the cause and effect of their actions, making these little findings interesting, and hence better entrenched in memory.
Educational Theory Background
There are several learning theories that define how an individual increases his knowledge about the world around him. Among the first few theories proposed in this regards is the school of behaviourism, which was founded mainly by the works of Ivan Pavlov. Mostly associated with the classical conditioning experiment, Pavlov experimented with the learning patterns of a dog and concluded that learning comprises of a stimulus that is given, which initiates a desired response, and this response to the stimulus is learnt and put into memory through repetition of the process. The classical conditioning model formed the basis of various other theories proposed by Edward Thorndike and.BF Skinner.
The behaviourism theory of learning focuses mainly on how behaviour can be influenced through practice, and through its reinforcement via punishment and rewards. An example of what this theory postulates, in terms of learning in children can be when a teacher wants the child to behave properly in class and not talk to his friends, she punishes him for talking, and rewards him with praise when he stays quiet for a certain duration of time. This reward and punishment regime teaches a child that it is rewarding to be quiet and therefore he stops talking to other people in class.
Another theory of learning is the cognitive school of thought, which indicates that there is a series of mental processes that enable the process of learning. This theory contrasts in some way to the behavioural school of thought as it postulates that changing behaviour or reward and punishment are not the only way in which people are able to learn. Noam Chomsky in his review on BF Skinner's work also argues that children also learn through social observation, as they learn language. In fact he uses language as the prime example to indicate that children, when the form various sentence structures and when they are able to use grammatical rules to express themselves they don't do it through a process of reward and punishment. There are instead cognitive processes at work that develop the synaptic links and enable the child to learn language. (Chomsky, 1967) According to him:
"Skinner takes great pains, however, to deny the existence in human beings (or parrots) of any innate faculty or tendency to imitate. His only argument is that no one would suggest an innate tendency to read; yet reading and echoic behaviour have similar "dynamic properties." This similarity, however, simply indicates the grossness of his descriptive categories. In the case of parrots, Skinner claims that they have no instinctive capacity to imitate, but only to be reinforced by successful imitation" (Chomsky, 1967, p. Note 40)
Therefore this theory hold that there are instinctive and observational faculties that beings process at different levels, and it is these faculties that are the determining factor in how the individual creature learns things around him.
The next school of learning is constructivism, which is led by the theories postulated by Jean Piaget and holds that learning is a constructive process where people learn in individualized manners from their individual experiences and these individual experiences are then associated with previous learning in the individual's memory to form a truly unique experience.
While there are various other theories of learning, various studies have also proven the need for early development that fosters long-term growth and building of personality and character. The Effective Early Learning study 'The Effective Early Learning Project: The Quality of Adult Engagement in Early Childhood Settings in the UK' (Pascal & Bertram, 1990), indicates that stimulation, or the manner in which an adult introduces an activity enhances child behaviour and thinking patterns. Therefore when presented in the form of playful learning, children can even undertake the most tedious and complex of tasks and do them in an excitable manner necessary to enable better learning.
Linking these theories to our problem statement of having children learn through play, all schools of thought differ in the methodology they think enables learning. However the outcome and the core objective of each theory are to define how the outcome of learning comes about. And in this case, all the theories, from behaviourism, to cognition to constructivism all indicate the importance of experience and previous learning in associating new knowledge to old. Taking each theory in turn, the behaviourist school of thought indicates that children learn through reinforcement of their actions. And the fastest and the most expedient form of reaction and reinforcement come from play. For example, a child putting in a ball from the top of a spiral tower knows that when the puts the ball through that hole, it is going to spiral down the tower, and is going to be available to him though one of the outlets at the bottom of the tower. This is a seemingly simple activity but it teaches him a variety of things. It teaches the child hand-eye coordination, which is developed when he puts the small ball through the small hole. It teaches him about gravity as he knows then that if he is to move the ball, he can roll it down, and that the ball will always go down and not up.
Playing this game, with the ball showing up at the bottom of the tower each time is a reinforcement of that behaviour that each time the ball is put in the hole it is going to come down, and when he gets the ball at the bottom it is his reward.
As far as the cognitive school of thought is concerned, and as argued by Noam Chomsky, relates to the mental process that is part of the learning process and are those that need to be targeted. In the cognitive school of thought as well, physical activity is learnt also through observation, and when children see their adults demonstrating how the toys are to be played with, or when they see their peers busy at those physical activities they also imitate them and learn how to play with the instruments and the tools that they are provided with.
As far as the constructivist theories are concerned, Jean Piaget indicates that the personality of the child develops in the early years, and these are the years, when children are most attracted to play, indicating that if learning was to happen through play, it would be a much more pleasant experience.
Play and Learning in the British National Curriculum
Play is considered to be the right of a child and this right is granted to children by the UN rights commission under Article 31 of t he UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This article is taken as the basis for the formulation of some of the policies that are part of the National Curriculum in Britain.
Play supports learning in a variety of ways. Foremost, it makes learning practicable and hence more interesting than when facts and information is only read about and now…