Are we just playing?


Are we just playing or do we actually learn through play? Parent’s want to know the answer and our expert Donna Townsend explains how the play never really ends and we would never want it to, since it is the ultimate learning tool!


By Donna Townsend



“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”


Picture the scene; you have just unwrapped your brand new mobile phone. It is fully charged and ready to be switched on. You look around it and find the switch; it lights up and looks fabulous. You touch the screen, download some apps, send some messages and maybe even play some games. During this whole time you are being motivated by your intrinsic interest to know how your new piece of technology works.  During this time of discovery were you attending to a great teaching experience or were you “just playing?”

Parents have said to me, on more than one occasion, when does the playing stop and the learning begin? From the adult focused scenario I gave you, the answer is the playing never stops!

We start playing from the moment we are born and it continues throughout our adult life. The question should be when did people stop valuing play?

There is so much pressure placed on children by society to be the best and to succeed, they are surrounded by a celebrity culture where having the latest gadgets becomes an overwhelming burden for some children and families. To compete, they have to interact in a virtual world where most communication is through social networking sites and mobile phone applications.

In the past I have worked with children, whose passion for exploring and discovery has been inspirational yet recently I have noticed that children are becoming less imaginative and creative.

As teachers and parents, we have to help children develop these diminishing skills and we can only do it through play. But how do we do this? By providing open ended resources, for example by giving a child a selection of different sized empty boxes you can help them to create a range of wonderfully exciting scenarios. You can make a castle where the princess lives, you can make a train station or an airport, you can build a house like Grandmas or you can build a skyscraper just like the ones in the city. During this kind of activity there are many skills a child is learning, they are learning how to problem solve; how can we make this box stick on to this box? You are encouraging critical thinking; how high do you think we can build this skyscraper before it falls over? You are encouraging real time communication and conversation, you are refining a child’s fine motor skills and encouraging dexterity and you are encouraging their imagination.

An adult watching this type of activity may initially think that a child is “just playing” but isn’t that what you were doing with your new mobile phone? Yet you learned so much about how it operated. A child building with boxes will remember the things that didn’t work and will modify their approach to building the same thing next time, they will remember the successes of the activity and this will give them the motivation to try something more challenging next time. They will take these newly acquired skills and apply them to another activity, and as they get older and acquire more confidence and knowledge through exploring and playing they will use these skills in more academic challenges. Later in life they will apply these skills to the complexities of living and working in an adult environment.

If you are a parent try out an afternoon of box modeling at home, you will have to be enthusiastic and interested because your child won’t be in the beginning. They will wonder why they are not being given an iPad or being allowed to watch the TV. Persevere and have some fun, your child will follow your lead and soon you will have built a fortress where the whole family can lose themselves in an adventure without boundaries.


*previously published in Expat Ladies

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