GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT PLAY

Most parents have heard of ‘learning through play’, a term you are sure to come across when talking about early childhood development. But do we really understand what learning through play is, and how best to execute it? Is it just about having fun? Is it educational enough for older children? Here, we’ll debunk the myths as we dive deep into learning through play.

MYTH 1 : LEARNING THROUGH PLAY IS JUST FOR FUN

Maria Montessori, renowned physician and educator behind the Montessori philosophy, once said “Play is a child’s work”.

Play – is so much more than fun, it is actually crucial to all aspects of a child’s development.

Take a simple activity of painting, for example. It is not just about self-expression and creativity –  children are strengthening their fine motor skills, differentiating colours, talking about what they are creating, waiting and taking turns if the tube of paint they want is being used by another child.

Ms Joey Lye, Principal of JuzMusic Academy explains how children experiment through play.

“They make discoveries through trying and experimenting.  For example when playing with a drum, by hitting the drum lightly, it makes a quiet sound; If they hit it hard, it makes a loud one.  Parents or teachers can then teach them about the concept of dynamics in music- loud and quiet sounds. Other ideas include listening to the musical beat of any piece and march along with it; making up new words or add choruses to familiar songs.”

Picture courtesy of JuzMusic

Even when it seems like they are being mischievous – jumping off the sofa, dropping cutlery or knocking down toys – they are unknowingly learning about gravity, noticing that different things make different sounds when dropped, and finding out that it is easier to topple a tower of blocks if you hit it near the bottom [PS: They also find out that these acts seem to annoy Daddy and Mummy!]. 

Through play, children are constantly observing, discovering and experimenting with how everything around them works, all while enjoying themselves.

The neural connections in our brains are rapidly forming in the first few years of our life, so early childhood experiences lay the foundation for our child’s future ability to learn, solve problems, regulate emotions and manage relationships. Make time for learn and play, especially in these critical years! 

MYTH 2 : LEARNING THROUGH PLAY IS ONLY BENEFICIAL FOR VERY YOUNG CHILDREN

Play is beneficial for babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, school-going children and even adults! While we may have less time to play as we get older, it remains an effective way to understand abstract concepts, de-stress from the hustle and bustle of the day, and help us be more innovative and creative.

The way children play and the complexity of their activities change as they grow up.

For example, singing and dancing to a fun song may be an appealing language activity to a 2-year-old, whereas a 5-year-old may prefer to create and act out a dramatic scenario, and a 10-year-old could be interested to write and illustrate his or her own storybook.

Ms Joni Siah, shares how the same activity can benefit both her 10-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.

“I try to integrate learning in the activities we do daily, such as preparing meals. I introduce the ingredients to them and my daughter gets to touch and help with preparation. For my son, we will talk about the properties of the ingredients and the science behind the cooking methods.”

Picture courtesy of The Little Things

MYTH 3 : LEARNING THROUGH PLAY REQUIRES A LOT OF TIME AND EFFORT BY PARENTS

You don’t necessarily need extra time and effort to make learning through play part of your daily life.

Ms Laarvanya Raveendhran, who has a 5 and a 3-year-old, says she takes her cues from her children.

“The best ideas are from a child. They have untainted imaginative play which leads to many discoveries and learning moments. Trust your child to lead!”

Avoid over scheduling your child’s day and minimise screen time, so that your child has free time to immerse in play. Even without explicit adult intervention, children are learning as they play, so your role can be as simple as talking about what they are doing, and helping them connect what they are doing with things they have seen or experienced in real life. Be careful not to direct or correct how they play, because much of the benefits of play come from it being self-directed, open-ended and making discoveries through trial and error.

It’s a misconception that parents need to be crafty or have a background in early childhood education to provide good opportunities for learning through play. In fact, the simpler the materials, the more there is for children to play and discover.

Ms Kwan Chiao Chyi, Co-founder of Tickle Your Senses, suggests loose parts are best for encouraging experiential play.

“Loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. You can see how this allows children to learn by experiment, and by using their creativity. Loose parts include playdough, clay, buttons, ice cream stickers, cardboard pieces, clothes pegs, shells, colored stones, etc.”

Picture courtesy of Tickle Your Senses

Besides keeping it simple, another idea for playtime is to make it a social affair.

Ms Rita Mulani, Managing Director of Gymboree Play & Music shares more.

“Scheduling play dates with other parents and children is an effective and fun way to provide your child with unstructured time to explore and play at her own pace and with peers. Participating in organized playgroups or parent-child participation programs is a great way for children to interact alongside each other with your supervision.”

Picture courtesy of Gymboree Play & Music

What’s important is having an open mind and a positive attitude towards playtime! Your supportive presence will tell your child that what he or she does is important, and that there is something to learn in everything we do (and everything we fail at too!). This will encourage your child to be a happy and resilient learner!

MYTH 4 : LEARNING THROUGH PLAY IS TOO DIFFERENT FROM THE RIGID ACADEMIC TEACHING METHODS CHILDREN EXPERIENCE IN FORMAL SCHOOLING

“My child won’t be able to adjust if it’s all about play” – Sounds familiar?  

Contrary to popular belief, Singapore’s MOE schools adopt a wide variety of teaching and learning strategies to make lessons more meaningful for students. For example, at Alexandra Primary School, students learn Mathematics by measuring ingredients and making their own dessert, and buying items with fictitious currency at a mock-up shop. Students at CHIJ Our Lady Queen of Peace put their Science lessons to practice by creating and designing their own toys with recycled materials. Jiemin Primary School incorporates choral reading, poetry recitation, film appreciation and journalism in learning English.

School is definitely not all about intense academic drilling, but even if it was, it would be even more important to de-stress and have time for free play at home!

You can also make use of play to reinforce what your child has learned in school. Bring your child to the zoo and have fun identifying and categorising animals that they have learnt about in Science lessons. Play charades and act out Chinese phrases your child is memorising for a quiz and have him or her guess or write the phrase. Shopping is a fun way to practise Mathematics concepts – ask your child to help calculate how much discount you’re getting on that new bag, or compare prices at the supermarket to find which brand offers a better deal. The possibilities are endless!

Ng Chee Wee, Co-founder of MAKE, an all-new enrichment centre which focuses on developing creative problem-solving competencies, agrees that play can complement academic content.

“With careful design, play activities can be both fun and academic-reinforcing at the same time!  At MAKE, our curriculum-aligned sessions have kids making hands-on projects that are synchronised to formal school content.  For example, kids create their own mini paper umbrella using an assortment of materials.  They see, touch and experience the various properties of materials, hence enhancing their appreciation of why some materials are better suited for different parts of the umbrella.  Kids have fun, build confidence through self-creation, and deepen their understanding of academic theory.”

Picture coutesy of MAKE

We hope the tips have given you a new perspective on how beneficial play is and how easy it can be to learn through play. With our increasingly busy lifestyles, perhaps the most precious gift we can give our children is unhurried time to play, explore and learn at their own pace. Let’s make a commitment to learn and play more as a family!


From Today Got Class : We would like to thank our educators and services, as well as our parents for taking the time to contribute to this article.

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About the Author

Lydia & Jaclyn
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More about Lydia & Jaclyn

Lydia and Jaclyn are the Chief Mums of Today Got Class. As mothers of 3 young sons aged 5, 8 and 10 years respectively, we believe that enrichment classes are necessary for our children to pick up complementary skills to help them hone their learning and development capabilities. "Learn to play, play to learn" is our parenting motto.

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