Teaching vs. Play-Learning Systems

Current trends in education and recent findings in developmental neuroscience are accelerating the move towards more child-directed learning through play. This movement will have a profound impact on teacher training, learning environment and support apparatus design. Why is this so?

Let’s take the simple example of children learning creative self-expression. Below are two images that depict the extremes.



puddle jumpers

Puddle Jumpers Nature Preschool

One can argue that the structured craft project is less work for the staff than the unstructured art on theleft because clean-up is so easy, but is learning about less work and a nice take home for the parents? As more and more ECE programs move towards kid powered play the way they design their spaces, what materials the supply and how those materials are presented will change radically.

Here’s another comparison.

blockplayliteracy community

Community Playthings

floor blocks

Floor blocks are a perennial hit with kids who typically build villages and castles with them, and that’s about it. If you introduce some small cars, then they add roads and gas stations, etc. Adding small people makes for community-scale play.

In most centers, they are put away at the end of every day. What if the children’s creations were able to be left in place for a whole week? How would this continuity change the play, the use of language, the social connections between the children? What additional materials might be introduced? Could the children make maps and tell the story of this town they have constructed?

In most ECE centers the block play area is the most well developed. Many teachers have discovered that adding “accessory” elements makes for more intense and longer duration play episodes and becomes a hotbed of social/emotional development. When brought up to a high level of complexity, these learning areas become true learning systems. Increasingly teachers are extending this sort of complex systems concept to other areas of their centers.

While the physical space is transformed, and new materials introduced and presented in different ways, the most profound change is the way teaching is done. In such renewed centers teachers spend the bulk of their time observing and interjecting into the play to help sustain its growth. A few words, a small number of additional materials replaces workbook and practice sheets.

While many schools have discovered … discovery learning, the vast majority of ECE centers are still teacher directed and teacher controlled. This will change as more and more studies show the learning benefits of kid powered play.