What is more natural for a young child than the act of playing?
Through play, children learn to socialize, understand how things work, and explore the world around them. Play offers an optimal condition to bring out the best in children socially and cognitively. In fact, the United Nations includes engaging in play and recreational activities among the rights of all children1 across the globe.
However, opportunities for play are being reduced in early childhood programs to make way for academic programming. “Play is seen as important work for children,” says Jie-Qi Chen, Erikson Institute professor and founding executive director of Erikson’s Early Teaching and Learning Academy, “but it is disappearing from kindergarten, and kindergarten readiness is frequently equated to readiness for academic learning.”
While the effects of play on child development have been robustly studied and documented, the impact that play has on learning has not. In 2015, Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Lego Foundation established the Pedagogy of Play, a research collaboration designed to answer three fundamental questions: What does it mean to have a pedagogy (a method of teaching) of play and why is it important? What does playful learning look and feel like in classrooms and schools? How do educators set up the conditions where playful learning thrives?
On February 16, Erikson Institute hosted Dr. Ben Mardell, principal investigator and project director of the Pedagogy of Play and Dr. Mara Krechevsky, senior researcher at Project Zero for a hybrid presentation examining the relationship between play and learning for young children.
More than 40 people braved sleety winter weather to attend the free, professional development lecture, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Play & Learning,” at Erikson and over 40 more people joined via Zoom. The program included small group discussions between attendees, as well as a Q&A session at the end.
Along with examples of research on children’s learning and play, the presenters examined the “paradoxes” that face playful learning in classrooms today. These include:
The key takeaway was that these paradoxes can be navigated to optimize children’s learning with “yes, and” approaches—children can be messy and classroom order can still be maintained; children can take charge of their learning and still be guided by the adults accountable for learning goals and adhering to timetables.
Finally, the event underscored the impact that play can have on teachers, in terms of their own learning about the children in their care. Teachers who allow themselves to be surprised by the children they teach and who learn alongside children, can deepen their own knowledge and skills as educators.
If you want to learn more or experience a Project Zero event, check out the upcoming free “Playful Schools” conference March 27-29.
1 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/convention-rights-child#:~:text=Article%2031-,1.,cultural%20life%20and%20the%20arts.
Join the Erikson family with monthly news + events updates shared by academics, community members, and families.