Play-based learning is important throughout our lives if we wish to live a healthy and prosperous life. This is not some random made-up sentence that sounds inspiring. George Bernard Shaw, an Irish author, playwright, critic, political activist, and the recipient of the 1925 Nobel Prize in Literature once said
We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.
And was he right in so many ways! The importance of play is evident in each and every human being’s childhood (and even adulthood, at times). But what does constructive play truly mean and how does it help us, if at all?
All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy
If we go by the dictionary definition, “to play” can be defined as “to engage in an activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose”. As much as the first part of this definition, i.e. ‘to engage in an activity for enjoyment and recreation’ is correct, many would now say that the latter half is absolutely not.
A considerable amount of research in the field of play-based learning is indicative of the profound importance of play on the overall development of a child. Playing helps the brain develope cognitive abilities, establish new neural connections, and make us more intelligent in multiple aspects at once. It improves the ability to perceive others’ emotional states and to adapt to ever-changing circumstances.
The famous play theorist Brian Sutton-Smith was a firm believer in the fact that play-based learning helps a lot in child development. According to him, playing helps children develop the neural connections and pathways which will be needed for advanced learning required at a later stage. It helps children learn how to learn through constructive play.
Children who play regularly with their peers are most likely to achieve the highest levels of adjustment as adults.
– Brian Sutton-Smith
According to a research study conducted in 2012, the benefits of play-based learning on healthy child development are numerous. For starters, it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children. It states that learning through play enhances the progress of early development from 33% to 67% by increasing adjustment, improving language and reducing social and emotional problems. The same research quotes play therapist O. Fred Donaldson as well who claims that the children who have been allowed to develop play resources receive many enduring advantages. They develop a universal learning skill through constructive play. Play-based learning maximizes their potential by developing creativity and imagination. It promotes joy, which is essential for self-esteem and mental well-being. The learning process is self-sustained based as it is on a natural love of learning and playful engagement with life.
Children who completely miss out on the importance of play and do not play as required stay deprived of all these benefits. This deprivation shows visible effects in the later stages of their life. Apart from its very obvious effects on physical health, lack of understanding about the importance of play may also prevent children from reaching their full potential and developing their cognitive skills. An article written by Esther Etin for The Atlantic also stated that a decrease in constructive play also increases the possibility of anxiety and depression in children.
Play-Based Learning and STEM
Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.
– Fred Rogers
As Mr. Rogers rightly points out, playing is to children what working, having a job, or running a business is to adults. It comes naturally to them. And since they are innately curious, constructive play becomes a wonderful opportunity for children to grow.
The importance of play hands-on is a proven method of mastering cognitive abilities and retaining in the memory for a longer duration of time; even forever perhaps. Not only is learning through play fun and engaging, but it also makes children think deeper and harder to come up with new ways and solutions to existing situations and problems. This, in turn, helps their problem-solving and motor skills to develop. It makes them more curious, creative, and innovative, qualities that stay with them forever and would help them excel in life in the future.
Play-based learning is also at the core of a concept that has taken the front stage since quite a long time; the concept of STEM Education, a fusion of Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology – the four basic disciplines which are the pillars of the economy of the world and ensure a healthy society. There are many reasons why the children of today should be encouraged to dive deep into STEM at an early age, and learning through play is one of the best ways to introduce STEM education to your child.
Considering the two facts that a) constructive play is an incredible way to learn new things and that b) STEM is all about learning the concepts while experiencing them in the real world, it becomes quite clear that learning through play is indeed a novel way to incorporate STEM into the lives of children from the time they start exploring the world and asking questions. Since parents are the first teachers in any child’s life, it becomes their responsibility to motivate them and explore STEM by inculcating play-based learning in their routine. This responsibility, however, is not like the others. Understanding the importance of play is something that doesn’t require many ‘prerequisites’ and provides the parents with an opportunity to be actively involved with their children in what they do.
In A Nutshell
Play-based learning is something that children are introduced to shortly after they are born and is thoroughly enjoyable for both the children as well as the parents. The constructive play thus becomes an incredible occasion for them to explore new things, learn about them first-hand, and develop their overall skills. STEM, being the champion of experiential skills that it is, makes the importance of play all the more evident by stressing why learning through play is extremely essential for the growth and development of children. Parents should, therefore, motivate their children more and more to participate in learning through play, to explore their surroundings, and to learn new concepts by discovering it themselves.