Learning through play
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.