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What young children learning really looks like

Could you imagine a group of little one year olds sitting at desks pencils in hand writing out letters? It’s a funny image but that is how some people think learning should look like. Children learn through play. There are a several different types of play children engage in and they learn different skills from each kind of play. It’s important to understand that even though they are “just playing” they are also learning.

Learning through play
Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Child driven small group play- Child driven small group play is where children are the ones who come up with the activity. “Let’s play mom and dad, I get to be the mom.” The children lay out the rules of what and how the game progresses. Even though it might seem like they are not learning much from this kind of play they are indeed learning a lot. They are working on social skills, how to interact with peers, how to come to an agreement, and social roles. They are also creating a story line, using their imaginations, and working as a team for a common goal.

Child driven play: Process rather than Product- A child sets out to draw a duck. While the child is drawing with the yellow crayon that they chose they are describing the parts that they are making as the head and wings. They then change to orange and say this is the beak and feet. When the picture is done there are yellow scribbles all over with a couple of orange lines altogether at the top. Does the picture really look like a duck? No. Did the child learn during the process of the activity? Absolutely!

Adult facilitated play- Adult facilitated play is where the adult starts the play normally there is a specific skill that is being targeted during this play. That’s not to mean that the child is sitting at the desk while the adult makes them write out their numbers. Children working on numbers could play an adult facilitated game where there are numbers on cards and counting bears; the child puts three counting bears on the number three, as the adult is nearby to assist if needed. Learning how to write is very important as well and can be practiced while playing as well.

You will know when a child is learning because they are actively engaged in the activity. They learn by hands on trial and error. Sometime doing the activity wrong will actually teach them more than having the adult guiding them to it right to first time. The focus of play is more the process rather than the product. Just because the picture doesn’t look like what you had in mind doesn’t mean the child didn’t learn for the creation of the picture. Community Playthings “Play: Children’s Context for Development” goes into more detail of how play helps children grow and develop. When a child is engaged and is learning they view learning in a positive way. There is a time and place for more structured learning. Give your child a balance between child driven and adult facilitated activities to help them grow and learn.

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