The Value of Play
Most of us have heard the expression, “Play is a child’s work”. What does that really mean?
Free play, in which the play is unstructured and directed by the child, can help build creativity, encourage problem solving, and foster social skills. Children are also using and developing all of their senses as they explore and discover the world. There are different stages of play that children progress through – from solitary play to more cooperative play, in which they interact together in a more organized and coordinated way. This cooperative play allows children to share, negotiate, lead, follow, learn new vocabulary and imagine. As children play, they learn how to make friends and how to work together.
Although free play has many benefits, there are times when it may not be the best strategy to learn particular types of content knowledge. For example, providing picture cards and bendable sticks were not optimal in children learning that triangles have three sides, one study concluded. Instead, children learned this information when directly taught. (1,2) This doesn’t mean that childhood shouldn’t be filled with flashcards or repetitive lessons.
What is the best way to teach new language and concepts to children? Many times adults tend to go into a direct “teaching mode”, especially if their child has been found to be behind or delayed in any area of development. We see people asking “What is this?”, “Now tell me what color this is”, or “what is this called?”. This direct teaching and questioning quite honestly just is NOT FUN!
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and anyone working with young children have found that GUIDED PLAY is more fun for a child. It is also highly effective for learning. During guided play, adults structure the environment by providing certain toys and providing subtle guidance that allows a child to reach a learning goal. The child is still taking the lead in the play activity, which is designed to be fun and engaging.
Written by Rhonda Granger, MA, CCC-SLP, Lead Clinical Speech Language Pathologist, Delaware Speech and Hearing Center
Check out our last blog: Untreated Hearing Loss in Adults
1. Alfieri L, Brooks PJ, Aldrich NJ, Tenenbaum, HR. Does discovery-based instruction enhance learning? Journal of Educational Psychology. 2011; 103 (1): 1-18
2. Singer DG, Golinkoff RM, Hirsh-Pasek K, eds. Play=Learning: How play motivates and enhances children’s cognitive and social-emotional growth. New York: Oxford University Press; 2006