Thursday, February 28, 2008

Learning through Play

I was listening to NPR this morning, like I do every morning and there was a thought provoking snippet about learning. The gist of it was that kids learn best when they are allowed to play and make believe. Video games and structured play have taken away the kids' opportunities to imagine and play. What they are finding is that those imaginative times are when kids learn how to act as various members of society. We all remember playing teacher or parents or the milkman (why did I play the milkman? I've never seen a real, living milkman in my life. I think I would be a good one though, except I don't drink milk). As kids pretend to be different people, they are developing the social skills to take on different roles later in life.

So when the kids sit down to play a video game, even an educational game, they do not have the opportunity to 'try out' being different members of society and they thereby are lacking some social development. When kids go to school and the school structures all of their time for 'learning', they miss the opportunity to explore different roles and how to interact as different members of society.

The NPR piece was about some schools that are providing these opportunities for social development in a more structured setting. The kids have to plan out how they are going to play and then take on the role as planned. I think there are better ways to go about this (like letting kids play and not interrupting them). Of course children need to be educated, I'm not arguing against education. I am arguing for giving kids the freedom to play and imagine, uninhibited by their unimaginative adult onlookers.

As I rode into school today I was thinking of this and I became a little concerned. Our kids love imaginative play. I don't think I have ever seen Mugwump pretend to be anything other than a dog since we read "Julie of the Wolves". Six-pence has a larger variety, but I don't know that it's much better. He pretends to be a Mammoth or a Buoy. I worry a little that Mugwump is preparing himself to live among the wolves and Six-Pence is preparing to join a herd of extinct animals. On a brighter note, buoys are steadfast and unmovable and a beacon of light for those around it. The social skills of a buoy, however, seem to be lacking.

As for my own learning, I decided to take the long way home in order to clear my mind. Here's what I found. If you want to clear your mind, getting lost on a bunch of old country roads in the middle of the night isn't the best bet. Here are just a few of things that were on my mind while I was trying to clear it:
  • I wonder how big that dog I hear is?
  • I wonder if he is behind a fence?
  • I wonder if he is faster than me?
  • I wonder if this road turns to dirt or dead-ends soon?
  • I wonder how many other dogs are on this road?
  • I wonder if this road comes out anywhere near my house?

I don't know why I ended those statements with question marks, but we'll just say that it was an expression of unwarranted doubt. It was a beautiful night and a wonderful time to get out and explore.

P.S. Grammie, I got your email. It sounded like you couldn't get to the other blog site. I have a link on the left side of the page. When you move the little arrow over the words, "Mugwump's blog" your arrow will turn to a pointing finger. Click the left button on the mouse and it should take you to his blog. When you are there, if you click on the comments button at the bottom of a post and then click on the little circle that says, "anonymous" it should let you type in the comment box (I am going to go enable that feature right now). When you are done, type the squiggly letters in the box they are supposed to go in and click the button at the bottom of that screen that says "publish your comment". I hope that works.


Heather said...

I'm glad those schools are seeing an improvement in children's self-control, impulses, and regulations. However, I think that the teachers are becoming substitute parents! I don't think education is going to improve if teachers have to educate AND be the parent.
I agree that there are better ways to go about it. Creative play is so important, and so much fun! I used to pretend I was a brontosaurus, or a stegosaurus.

Emily Allan Wood said...

Leave public education to the Jones's. We'll have some bright and happy kids without the school system. There is so much wrong with the current system of education that I can't possibly summarize it, but you have touched on a very important issue. Children learn naturally and teach themselves naturally....and schools squelch it because they are too worried about the standards of education the gov't has put forth. Arg. Schools are just for socializing and not much else....