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Playful Learning in Early Childhood Classrooms: It's Complicated

by Ben Mardell
May/June 2019
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Article Link: https://www.childcareexchange.com/article/playful-learning-in-early-childhood-classrooms-its-complicated/5024753/

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Early childhood educators with a constructivist orientation have long put play at the center of their pedagogical approaches. As Vygotsky wrote, “In play a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself.” There is a growing body of research that supports Vygotsky’s insight, which suggests that by building on children’s strengths, play offers powerful pathways for cognitive, social, emotional and physical development. When children play they are engaged, relaxed and challenged—states of mind highly conducive to learning. Through play, children try out ideas, test theories, experiment with symbol systems, explore social relations, take risks and reimagine the world. (See https://www.legofoundation.com/en/learn-how/knowledge-base/learning-through-play-a-review-of-the-evidence/.) While play is sometimes associated with frivolity and silliness, it is good to remember the words of the pediatrician Benjamin Spock: “Children play not because it is easy but because it is hard.” Children play to learn.

Yet there can be confusion about what playful learning involves in early childhood classrooms. A few years ago, I observed center time in an American preschool. Four girls and a teacher sat around a table ...

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