There was a very interesting piece in the press lately about the concerns the Lego Foundation have over the neglect of play-based learning. They are funding a research project to investigate its effect.
Play based learning helps develop valuable skills like creativity, hand-eye coordination and problem solving, all needed for the development of literacy and numeracy as well as other skills. Yet because of the structure and formal pursuit of these academic subjects play opportunities are abandoned far too early, they suggest.
Pedal (the Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development and Learning at Cambridge University) would back up their view.
This new centre was set up last year to research the link between children’s play and their educational development, particularly through play-based learning approaches. They believe that skills vital for future learning and development like critical thinking, creativity and interpersonal skills are improved through play-based activities. And the centre is keen to produce evidence to this effect with a view to changing early years education from a less prescribed and tested approach to one that provides more opportunity for play based learning. They feel that play opportunities for children are diminishing so rapidly, both in the family environment and schools, that it is impacting on children’s all round progress and well being.
An interesting film on their site shows how play can contribute to the children’s imaginative writing. They also found how those who were less able to write were the ones who made the most advancement; an exciting start to the research. But what may be more exciting is the effect it could have on people’s attitudes to early education and the form it should take.
Many parents are anxious about their child’s academic achievement and this is putting pressure on them to focus on academic practice right from an early age at the expense of play activities – structured practice often being what parents want to see in schools. But by narrowing down to this academic focus, both in the home and early school years, the broader skills children need for their rounded development are also narrowed.
This is what needs to change, feels Hanne Rasmussen, head of the Lego Foundation. They’re hoping to provide evidence of the developmental value of play so parents will feel confident in giving children plenty of play based activities rather than formal ones.
It’s interesting to note that many of the families who educate their children out of school have a much more play-based approach to their children’s learning. Yet these home educated children go on to achieve good academic grades in later years. So it seems that no harm was done by a less formal approach.
Whether this research has commercial outcomes for Lego or not, as some critics suggest, it would be good to see early education become less formal in Britain, thus taking the pressure off parents and children and teachers who may be forcing formal education onto children far too young and inadvertently inhibiting progress rather expanding it.