Play and Learning

“Play is the highest form of research.” — Albert Einstein

Cognitive research has shown the important connection between early childhood experiences and intellectual development. The most important time for a brain is when it is young and growing. Humans are born with 100 billion brain neurons, which make connections through synapses that “wire” the brain for thinking. Early childhood experiences affect the types and amounts of these synaptic connections. To develop the area of the brain responsible for higher-order thinking, children need to have rich experiences that stimulate all of their senses. For a child, play is a critical path to those experiences that engage their senses and provide the foundation for future learning.

In a TED talk of 2008 on Serious Play at the Art Center Design conference in Pasadena California, designer Tim Brown asserted that play is at the root of creative thinking, that playfulness can help us do our jobs better, and find more innovative solutions. Play can help us be more adaptive, collaborative, spontaneous and joyful. Brown believes that the relaxation and trust resulting from people playing together can lead to an increased willingness to take risks.

Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Professor of Psychology at Temple University and best-selling author of the book “Einstein Never used Flashcards: How children really learn and why they need to play more and memorize less” and of the book “Play = Learning: How play motivates and enhances children’s cognitive and social-emotional growth” argues that play-based learning environments are more effective than classroom, memorization-based, learning environments at teaching our children. As Dr. Hirsh-Pasek points out in an interview she gave for The View, you can teach your children that 1+1=2 and they may know the fact of addition, but ask them whether they want one or two scoops of ice cream and they understand the meaning.

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Laura Shultz from MIT