Playing and learning are synonymous for children.
Children of all ages develop cognitively, socially, emotionally and physically through play. Play provides them with an opportunity to create, invent, reason and problem solve – key skills for the 21st century learner.
Every important concept can be taught through organised play. Children’s play, whether functional, constructive or socio-dramatic opens up a new dimension of exploration, discovery and enjoyment for children and learning happens in a natural and intuitive environment.
Most children learn the difficult of skills before the age of five, be it crawling, walking, speaking or riding a bicycle. Most, if not all, of this is done through play and intrinsic motivation. And when a child begins formal schooling at the age of five, he/she is expected to learn without play. Play becomes a reward, to be doled out after the child has learnt/accomplished a chunk of curriculum/work. As a result, slowly the child starts disassociating play from formal learning, which not only puts them in an unnatural environment but also squeezes out the joy that creation, invention, reasoning and problem-solving brings. In some cases, learning and playing, transform from being synonymous to antonyms.
The adult – teacher or parent – has a crucial role in planning, monitoring and assessing the learning outcomes of play; who should ensure that learning while playing is organised and explicit and not incidental to the learning activity.
Yet, today, there is very little use of play in teaching children. Schools are hesitant, if not phobic to the idea of play as a tool for learning. This is primarily because, as adults, we have successfully unlearnt how to play and associate play with fun alone. The use of term “fun” in the context of play has done much disservice to the application of play in learning. Play like learning, need not necessarily be fun, but to be a successful tool it does need to be engaging, at all times.