Learn­ing through play

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - EDUCATION GUIDE -

dR Peter Gray who is a re­search pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Bos­ton Col­lege and au­thor of the ac­claimed book Psy­chol­ogy (Worth Pub­lish­ers) and Free to Learn: Why Un­leash­ing The In­stinct To Play Will Make Our Chil­dren Hap­pier, More Self-Re­liant, And Bet­ter Stu­dents For Life (Ba­sic Books), shares his in­sights.

“We know that re­search in­di­cates that chil­dren learn best in an en­vi­ron­ment that al­lows them to ex­plore, dis­cover and play. In fact, play is seen to be so im­por­tant for chil­dren that the United Na­tions states that ev­ery child has the right to rest and leisure, to en­gage in play and re­cre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties ap­pro­pri­ate to the age of the child and to par­tic­i­pate freely in cul­tural life and the arts.

“In na­ture, al­most all young mam­mals learn through play. An­i­mals play be­cause play is use­ful in the strug­gle for sur­vival; be­cause play helps them to prac­tise and so per­fect the skills needed in adult life.

“Pro­pri­o­cep­tion is the ‘ hid­den sense’ and we use it ev­ery day. It is the sense that gauges your body’s po­si­tion in space. Play is the ideal ac­tiv­ity to de­velop this sense. Ide­ally, a va­ri­ety of struc­tures and equip­ment should be avail­able.

“Schools can and should help to en­cour­age phys­i­cal play through spe­cially de­signed play equip­ment, slides, swings, climb­ing frames and more.

“When chil­dren en­gage in phys­i­cal play they de­velop dex­ter­ity, co­or­di­na­tion, bal­ance and also their sense of spatial aware­ness.

“Their vestibu­lar sys­tem, that part of the ear that is re­spon­si­ble for bal­ance and spe­cial ori­en­ta­tion, is stim­u­lated and re­fined as they climb, skip, ride bikes, jump rope and play ball.

“At the school where I work, we recog­nise that chil­dren need to play. Re­search shows that if young chil­dren are tem­po­rar­ily de­prived of play op­por­tu­ni­ties, for ex­am­ple be­ing kept in a tra­di­tional class­room, they play for longer and more vig­or­ously af­ter­wards,” shares Dr Gray.

This can be in con­trast to many other schools in South-East Asia.

In China, some peo­ple such as au­thor Yong Zhao recog­nise that there is more to ed­u­ca­tion than aca­demic tests.

He ar­gues that af­ter a very for­mal ed­u­ca­tion chil­dren can of­ten end up as gaofen di­neng, which essen­tially means good at tests but bad at ev­ery­thing else.

Chil­dren who spend nearly all their time study­ing, have lit­tle op­por­tu­nity to be crea- tive, dis­cover or pur­sue their own pas­sions, or de­velop phys­i­cal and so­cial skills.

It is ben­e­fi­cial to pro­vide a wide va­ri­ety of out­door equip­ment and op­por­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren to en­gage in play.

Spe­cialised equip­ment such as ‘big balls’ and ther­a­peu­tic balls that are kept in a spe­cial play­room in­doors for those learn­ers who pre­fer a more se­cure, in­door set­ting is a fur­ther rec­om­men­da­tion for schools.

Not only is out­door play im­por­tant to chil­dren’s de­vel­op­ment, pre­tend play or help­ing with small tasks at school or in the home im­proves mo­tor skills too.

Ac­tiv­i­ties such as build­ing with blocks, cut­ting and past­ing pa­pers, match­ing, pick­ing and plac­ing, sort­ing, or most ac­tiv­i­ties in­volv­ing the hand and fin­gers help de­velop the child’s fine mo­tor skills as well as hand­eye co­or­di­na­tion.

Ex­pen­sive elec­tronic toys are now much more preva­lent than they used to be and th­ese have their own ways of im­prov­ing fine mo­tor skills, dex­ter­ity and more.

How­ever, play does not nec­es­sar­ily have to in­clude com­mer­cial toys. Games of tag or hand-clap­ping games are equally as ef­fec­tive and have been en­joyed for years.”

For more in­for­ma­tion look out for the ad­ver­tise­ment for Nexus In­ter­na­tional School in this StarSpe­cial.

Elec­tronic de­vices have their own ways of im­prov­ing chil­dren’s fine mo­tor skills and dex­ter­ity.

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