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Competing trends in early childhood education emphasize the need for strong curricular approaches and for unfettered exploration. We propose an approach to early learning that avoids this false dichotomy: guided play. Guided play takes advantage of children’s natural abilities to learn through play by allowing them to express their autonomy within a prepared environment and with adult scaffolding. We provide examples of how guided-play situations have been implemented in past work, as well as evidence that guided play is successful for education across a range of content—perhaps even more successful than other pedagogical approaches.
Current Directions in Psychological
2016, Vol. 25(3) 177 –182
© The Author(s) 2016
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0963721416645512
A recent article in Forbes magazine posed a question that
has always captivated entrepreneurs, business leaders,
and politicians: What is the key to prosperity? The arti-
cle’s answer was simple: play (Townsend, 2014). A grow-
ing body of literature from developmental psychology
and education science reinforces this conclusion (see
Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, Berk, & Singer, 2008). For exam-
ple, at-risk children who attend play-based preschools
are significantly less likely to later be arrested for a felony
or suspended from work than children who attend pre-
schools without an emphasis on play (Schweinhart,
Barnes, & Weikart, 1993).
Although results like these suggest that play may sup-
port the growth of a variety of abilities, this work is pri-
marily correlational (Lillard et al., 2013). Therefore, it is
important to temper enthusiasm for play with consider-
ations of what play cannot do. Giving children unstruc-
tured time to explore may indeed boost their social and
self-regulatory abilities, but pedagogy of some kind is
necessary to encourage the growth of knowledge and
critical-thinking skills. Put simply, children cannot learn
letter–sound pairings or addition by running around on a
playground, even if that playground is covered in letters
and numbers. Strong curricular approaches thus have
value in teaching children the skills they need to start
school (Campbell, Pungello, Miller-Johnson, Burchinal, &
Ramey, 2001; Schweinhart et al., 2005).
Unfortunately, the issue of the proper role of play in
early education has too often been framed as a false
dichotomy between learning and play (Clements &
Sarama, 2014; Hirsh-Pasek & Golinkoff, 2011). Discussing
early education in these terms masks the fact that each
approach has some merit. Here, we advocate for a mid-
dle ground: guided play, which melds exploration and
child autonomy with the best elements of teacher-guided
instruction (Fisher, Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, Singer, &
Berk, 2010; Weisberg, Hirsh-Pasek, & Golinkoff, 2013).
What Is Guided Play?
Guided play refers to learning experiences that combine
the child-directed nature of free play with a focus on
learning outcomes and adult mentorship. Children thrive
when they engage in free play, which involves active
engagement and is fun, voluntary, and flexible (Burghardt,
645512CDPXXX10.1177/0963721416645512Weisberg et al.Guided Play
Corresponding Author:
Deena Weisberg, Department of Psychology, University of
Pennsylvania, 3720 Walnut St., Solomon Labs, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Guided Play: Principles and Practices
Deena Skolnick Weisberg1, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek2,3,
Roberta Michnick Golinkoff4, Audrey K. Kittredge5,
and David Klahr6
1Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania; 2Department of Psychology, Temple University;
3Brookings Institution, Washington, DC; 4School of Education, University of Delaware; 5Faculty of Education,
University of Cambridge; and 6Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University
Competing trends in early childhood education emphasize the need for strong curricular approaches and for unfettered
exploration. We propose an approach to early learning that avoids this false dichotomy: guided play. Guided play
takes advantage of children’s natural abilities to learn through play by allowing them to express their autonomy within
a prepared environment and with adult scaffolding. We provide examples of how guided-play situations have been
implemented in past work, as well as evidence that guided play is successful for education across a range of content—
perhaps even more successful than other pedagogical approaches.
cognitive development, guided play, education, early childhood
at UNIV OF DELAWARE LIB on June 13, 2016cdp.sagepub.comDownloaded from
178 Weisberg et al.
2011). But for reaching specific learning goals, some
adult support is necessary. Guided play thus has two key
elements: child autonomy and adult guidance. This
makes it engaging, but with the advantage of focusing
the child on the dimensions of interest for a learning
Guided play can take two forms. In one, adults design
the setting to highlight a learning goal while ensuring
that children have autonomy to explore within that
setting. For example, high-quality museum exhibits teach
visitors while allowing them to explore as they like.
Research suggests that children’s relatively free explora-
tion with a restricted set of materials can lead to learning
(Cook, Goodman, & Schulz, 2011; van Schijndel, Visser,
van Bers, & Raijmakers, 2015).
The second form of guided play occurs when adults
watch child-directed activities and make comments,
encourage children to question, or extend children’s
interests. For example, 4- to 8-year-olds at a Chicago
Children’s Museum exhibit were asked to build a sturdy
skyscraper to highlight principles of engineering. When
adults asked open-ended questions while the children
were building (e.g., “What is this for?”), children learned
more and could transfer their knowledge to a new struc-
ture (Haden, Cohen, Uttal, & Marcus, 2016). Another
example comes from a study that trained instructors to
reinforce the meanings of new words in a play session.
Adults augmented children’s play by inserting definitions
for concepts when children’s attention was naturally
focused on those concepts. For example, they might
teach the word below as a child decided to make a dragon
fly over a toy castle (Toub et al., 2015).
These examples illustrate how sensitivity to children’s
attention and engagement within the flow of an activity
allows for the accomplishment of a learning goal. In
guided play, adult scaffolding focuses the child toward the
pedagogical goal without usurping child autonomy. Allow-
ing children to lead ensures that they are intrinsically moti-
vated to learn. If children feel that they are doing an
activity only because an adult wants them to, or because
they want to earn a reward, then they can feel prodded or
bribed and lose interest (Lepper & Henderlong, 2000).
Guided play emphasizes the need for keeping the activity
engaging from the child’s point of view (Ramani, 2012),
because children learn best when they are active and
involved (Chi, 2009; Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2015). Importantly,
adult guidance is just as crucial. Without it, even older
children might struggle to learn some types of content,
because demands of the learning context may exceed
their capacities for encoding and storing relevant informa-
tion (Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark, 2006).
In brief, guided play takes place in a constrained envi-
ronment with scaffolding that allows adults’ expertise to
inform children’s independent choices. We crucially
emphasize that guided play leaves the locus of control
with the child, allowing for self-directed exploration
while enhancing learning and genuine enjoyment. The
adult’s role is to prepare the environment and use open-
ended prompting to encourage the child toward the
learning goal, but children must navigate their own path
through the learning context. Maintaining this balance
between child leadership and adult scaffolding is the
essence of guided play’s successful formula for learning
(Honomichl & Chen, 2012; Weisberg et al., 2013). This
approach takes its inspiration from Lev Vygotsky, who
championed the idea of teaching at each child’s “zone of
proximal development”: the level at which each child is
most ready to develop new skills. Our goals here are to
clarify exactly how we think this kind of teaching should
be implemented and to provide evidence that it works
for preschool and early elementary education.
The Efficacy of Guided Play:
Four Key Examples
Many studies have illustrated the efficacy of a guided-
play approach. Some were reviewed in a recent meta-
analysis of learning in children, adolescents, and adults,
which aggregated the results of 164 earlier investigations
( Alfieri, Brooks, Aldrich, & Tenenbaum, 2011). This anal-
ysis found that “enhanced discovery” (analogous to
guided play) led to better outcomes than other types of
learning. Here we present four detailed examples illus-
trating this claim in young children.
In one example, Sobel and Sommerville (2010) showed
4-year-olds a machine with colored lights, which could
be activated with buttons. All children had to figure out
which lights would turn on at the same time. Some of the
children played with the box first and then observed the
experimenter press each button once and narrate his
action (discovery condition). Other children engaged in
these two phases in reverse, first observing the experi-
menter and then playing with the box (confirmation con-
dition). Children learned how the lights worked better in
the discovery condition than the confirmation condition.
Acting on a toy to discover how it works thus leads to
better learning compared to playing with a toy merely to
confirm what has been shown. This suggests that partici-
pating in active discovery allows children to benefit more
from adult teaching (see Schwartz, Chase, Oppezzo, &
Chin, 2011, for an analogous result with adult learners).
The second study directly investigated different strate-
gies for teaching preschoolers the properties of various
shapes, such as triangles (Fisher, Hirsh-Pasek, Newcombe,
& Golinkoff, 2013). To understand triangles, children
must learn that every figure with three sides and three
angles is a triangle, even if it is not an iconic equilateral
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Guided Play 179
triangle. Each child received a set of bendable sticks that
could be used to construct shapes and a set of cards
depicting shapes. These cards presented two different
types of shapes: typical (e.g., equilateral triangles) and
atypical (e.g., triangles with one very wide internal
angle). Children saw these materials in one of three con-
ditions. In the free-play condition, children could do
whatever they wished with the cards and construction
sticks without direction from the experimenter. In the
didactic-instruction condition, the experimenter acted as
an explorer discovering the properties of each type of
shape while the child passively watched. In the guided-
play condition, the experimenter invited the child to
explore with her and to discover the shapes’ properties.
After this training phase, children were asked to select
only the real triangles from a set of typical shapes, atypi-
cal shapes, and non-shapes. Children in both the guided-
play and didactic-instruction conditions learned better
than children in the free-play condition. But children in
the guided-play condition were significantly better at
transferring their knowledge to atypical shapes compared
to children in the didactic-instruction condition. Chil-
dren’s active participation in discovery, combined with
appropriate scaffolding from a knowledgeable adult,
allowed them to better understand the important features
of the shapes (see also Sim & Xu, 2015).
Guided play can also allow children to generate their
own learning opportunities that go beyond adult teach-
ing. In our third example, 4- to 6-year-olds saw a toy that
had several functions (e.g., pushing a button turned on a
light; pressing a lever played music). When adults dem-
onstrated only one of these functions, children’s later free
play concentrated on the demonstrated function. When
adults seemed to happen on the function by accident,
however, children’s later free play revealed more experi-
mentation with the toy’s full range of functions (Bonawitz
et al., 2011). Guided play may thus enhance the discov-
ery of undemonstrated functions, whereas direct instruc-
tion may inhibit this kind of exploration. Importantly,
teachers can scaffold self-directed exploration in other
ways, such as by hinting at other ways to explore after
providing a demonstration (Kittredge, Klahr, & Fisher,
2013) or by asking pedagogical questions (Landrum,
Bonawitz, Omar, Bamforth, & Shafto, 2015).
These examples suggest that guided play offers an
effective alternative to direct instruction when there is a
learning goal in mind. But finding an optimal balance
between self-discovery and adult guidance is a serious
challenge, because it heavily depends on the target con-
cepts. As children get older and the contexts for learning
become more complex, children might not be able to
fully discover causal relations without increases in explicit
instruction. Klahr and Nigam (2004) directly tested this
hypothesis with a group of third and fourth graders as
they learned to design simple experiments in a science
lesson. After an initial period of exploration, children in
the direct-instruction condition saw a teacher perform
experiments and explain why each experiment was good
or bad for determining the effect of some variable. Chil-
dren in the discovery condition were asked to design
experiments that would reveal each variable’s effect with-
out any further guidance.
We acknowledge that there is some ambiguity about
the precise label that should be applied to these two
conditions (Klahr, 2013), especially since this direct-
instruction condition was similar in some respects to
Sobel and Sommerville’s (2010) discovery condition. But
the most relevant aspect of this study is that, on a difficult
far-transfer task in which they were asked to make richer
scientific judgments, the few children who discovered
experimentation strategies on their own performed no
better than the many who learned it from direct instruc-
tion (see also Chen & Klahr, 1999). For learning this chal-
lenging procedure, it is difficult to design an environment
that will ensure that children attend to the critical features
of the learning goal without more adult scaffolding. Such
studies remind us that the balance between adult scaf-
folding and self-direction can and should shift depending
on the learners’ abilities and the learning goals.
These four studies, taken together, show that a combina-
tion of children’s self-directed participation and adult
scaffolding creates a powerful pedagogical approach for
learning in young children. More importantly, these studies
demonstrate that there is a vast pedagogical space between
the stark dichotomy of free play and direct instruction.
Why Is Guided Play Effective?
Guided play offers an exemplary pedagogy because it
respects children’s autonomy and their pride in discov-
ery. It thus may help to cultivate children’s love of learn-
ing, promoting their engagement while offering support
for knowledge acquisition. In this way, guided play cre-
ates the right mise en place—a confluence of environ-
mental and psychological factors that gently shape not
only the desired outcomes in learning but also a more
positive attitude toward learning itself (Weisberg, Hirsh-
Pasek, Golinkoff, & McCandliss, 2014).
The mise en place constructed in guided play can also
explain why these environments are successful at convey-
ing learning goals. For example, in the shapes study dis-
cussed above, having both typical and atypical shapes
present sparked comparisons between different types of
triangles. Different features of objects thus encourage dif-
ferent kinds of interactions, which in turn set the stage for
deeper kinds of learning. Similarly, the encouragement to
provide scaffolding during child-initiated activities can
lead adults to construct richer learning opportunities:
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180 Weisberg et al.
Parents who were encouraged to work with their children
to assemble a block structure in a guided-play environ-
ment produced more spatial talk (and hence more oppor-
tunities to learn spatial concepts) than parents who
engaged freely with their children (Ferrara, Hirsh-Pasek,
Newcombe, Golinkoff, & Lam, 2011).
Open Questions
Further research, especially in naturalistic settings, is criti-
cal for building a more nuanced understanding of guided
play. One challenge is to determine exactly which aspects
of adult-provided guidance are most effective. For exam-
ple, in an adult-guided board game with kindergartners,
a very small difference in guidance—asking children to
add the spinner’s number to their current number, rather
than counting from 1—led to substantial differences in
learning about the number line (Laski & Siegler, 2014).
Another major aim for future research is to determine
exactly how to balance child agency with adult constraint
across a range of educational content and for different
learners. How often should learning experiences take the
form of guided play? How much child agency is neces-
sary for high-quality learning? Another key challenge will
be to differentiate how guided-play experiences affect
students’ learning of content compared with their motiva-
tion for future learning.
Decades of research have shown that free play is neces-
sary for healthy development and can boost certain skills
in early childhood. But children need to be pointed
toward the relevant dimensions of a problem if they are
to learn. Guided play combines the best elements of free
play and direct instruction: child autonomy and adult
expertise. It provides an optimal medium for delivering
educational content in ways that are enjoyable and that
allow for genuine child agency, while constraining chil-
dren’s activities to facilitate learning.
Existing curricula could naturally incorporate elements
of this approach, such as by allowing children to take the
lead within a prepared environment (see Neuman & Ros-
kos, 1992) or structuring material in game-like ways
(Morris, Croker, Zimmerman, Gill, & Romig, 2013). New
curricula might also build on the success of existing pro-
grams that implement aspects of the guided-play
approach, such as Montessori (Lillard, 2013), Reggio
Emilia (Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 1998), Tools of the
Mind (Bodrova & Leong, 2015), and Community of Learn-
ers (Brown & Campione, 1994). The research reviewed
here gives us reason to believe that doing so will lead to
the best possible educational outcomes.
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Author Note
Deena Skolnick Weisberg and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek contributed
equally to the writing of this manuscript and should be consid-
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Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with
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gogy. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7, 104–112. doi:10.1111/
Weisberg, D. S., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M., & McCandliss,
B. D. (2014). Mise en place: Setting the stage for thought
and action. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18, 276–278.
at UNIV OF DELAWARE LIB on June 13, 2016cdp.sagepub.comDownloaded from
... During free play the children initiate the play and direct their activities without any guidance of an adult and without pursuing any extrinsic learning objectives (Weisberg et al., 2016). For academic learning, however, research indicates that a stronger involvement of the kindergarten teacher might be favourable (Pyle et al., 2017). ...
... Therefore, curricular frameworks in Germany started arguing for kindergarten teachers to initiate and support children's explorations, and to allow child autonomy at the same time (Anders, 2015). In guided play, the kindergarten teacher purposefully prepares a play environment with carefully structured materials that aim at a specific learning goal (material scaffolding), and initiates children's autonomous explorations (Weisberg et al., 2016). Additionally, the kindergarten teacher might verbally scaffold children's activities towards the learning goal (Weisberg et al., 2016). ...
... In guided play, the kindergarten teacher purposefully prepares a play environment with carefully structured materials that aim at a specific learning goal (material scaffolding), and initiates children's autonomous explorations (Weisberg et al., 2016). Additionally, the kindergarten teacher might verbally scaffold children's activities towards the learning goal (Weisberg et al., 2016). Verbal scaffolding aims at dynamically extending and complementing the guidance embedded in the materials (Martin et al., 2019) and has been found to be effective for science learning in kindergarten (e.g. ...
In this chapter we describe a guided play learning environment for 5- to 6-year-old kindergarten children that aims at fostering children’s conceptual knowledge about meshed gears’ turning direction and turning speed (the gear play environment). In an experimental study we have investigated 5- to 6-year-old’s learning about gear functioning by comparing children who engaged in the gear play environment (guided play condition) with children who freely played with gears (free play condition). The gear play environment consists of gear construction sets and a choice of task cards focusing children’s attention on turning direction and turning speed. Moreover, an adult verbally scaffolded children’s play towards the learning objectives. In the free play condition, children were provided with the construction sets without the task cards. Findings were mixed: With respect to turning direction, the results suggest that only the children in the guided play condition learned. With respect to turning speed, the results indicate that the children in both conditions were able to improve their conceptual knowledge. We conclude from our findings that guided play can facilitate scientific learning in kindergarten children, but it might depend on the learning content how much guidance is needed to achieve the best learning outcomes.
... Play is often positioned in contrast to 'work' or serious activities, but it is closely linked to learning and development in childhood and beyond. Free-play gives children opportunities to build independence and to cope with new emotions or unexpected situations (Brussoni et al., 2015;Rao and Gibson, 2019), while guided play, that is, playful learning opportunities supported and sca olded by skilled adults, can support classroom based learning (Weisberg et al., 2016). Play has been associated with many di erent facets of learning such as language ability, social and emotional it is linked with both academic achievement and Socioeconomic Status. ...
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The overall goal of the ISEE Assessment is to pool multi-disciplinary expertise on educational systems and reforms from a range of stakeholders in an open and inclusive manner, and to undertake a scientifically robust and evidence based assessment that can inform education policy-making at all levels and on all scales. Its aim is not to be policy prescriptive but to provide policy relevant information and recommendations to improve education systems and the way we organize learning in formal and non-formal settings. It is also meant to identify information gaps and priorities for future research in the field of education.
... It is particularly pertinent for early education as the emergent properties of the zone are evident not only in the process of instruction, but also of play, which forms the basis of early curricula around the developed world (Organization for Economic Cooperation Development, 2017). Of particular focus in the articles is the role of the adult in supporting this zone of proximal development as they engage in guided play with children, a topic of much recent research attention and scholarly debate (e.g., Weisberg et al., 2016;Eason and Ramani, 2020;Veraksa et al., 2021). The articles of this Research Topic present the latest research on the possibilities of child development in play and learning, with particular focus on the dialectical relationship between individual creativity and social conformity. ...
... A similar line of reasoning was mentioned in previous research on the mimamoru approach (Bamba & Haight, 2009;Holloway, 2010;Nakatsubo et al., 2021). Although similar recommendations for supporting children's emerging autonomy can be found in parenting and early childhood education practices in the West (Weisberg et al., 2016), there is a cultural difference in the way that adults foster this autonomy. In Western childrearing, negotiation and power struggles between parent and child are believed to foster the child's autonomy (Rothbaum et al., 2000); in contrast, Japanese experts recommend that parents remain tolerant and mimamoru their children's problem behavior to foster child autonomy. ...
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The Japanese pedagogical strategy of mimamoru (watch and protect) has been identified by cross-culture researchers as an implicit component of early childhood education in Japan. However, little is known about the types of advice given by experts to parents regarding mimamoru. Accordingly, this study examined expert advice related to the mimamoru approach in Japanese parenting magazines from 2015 to 2019. The majority of discipline-related articles examined included discussion of the mimamoru approach for infants and toddlers in the context of dangerous child behavior, conflicts with other children, sleep problems, and daily habit building. Experts cited promotion of child autonomy and development and avoidance of over-involvement as reasons for using mimamoru. However, concerns were also raised that the mimamoru approach may increase the childrearing stress of mothers when dealing with children’s defiant behavior. The study provides an important window into the Japanese strategy of mimamoru and suggested areas of future research.
... Due to our seemingly innate desire to explore, from the moment we are born human curiosity drives us towards new information in the environment. It has been proposed that children are able to generate their own learning opportunities (Weisberg et al., 2016) and almost from birth, human infants naturally show systematic attention towards the most learnable parts of an environment. In response to novel environments and objects, an infant's motor activity will increase and become more variable (de Almeida Soares et al., 2013;Molina & Jouen, 2004;Ruff, 1984). ...
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Humans' flexible innovation relies on our capacity to accurately predict objects' behaviour. These predictions may originate from a "physics-engine" in the brain which simulates our environment. To explore the evolutionary origins of intuitive physics, we investigate whether capuchin monkeys' object exploration supports learning. Two capuchin groups experienced exploration sessions involving multiple copies of two objects, one object was easily opened (functional), the other was not (non-functional). We used two within-subject conditions (enrichment-then-test, and test-only) with two object sets per group. Monkeys then underwent individual test sessions where the objects contained rewards, and they choose one to attempt to open. The monkeys spontaneously explored, performing actions which yielded functional information. At test, both groups chose functional objects above chance. While high performance of the test-only group precluded us from establishing learning during exploration, this study reveals the promise of harnessing primates' natural exploratory tendencies to understand how they see the world.
Research in early childhood development widely supports play as a vital learning mechanism for young children. Consequently, many libraries are beginning to embrace play as an intentional strategy for meeting targeted early learning outcomes. However, sufficient research on how play can be incorporated into storytimes to support children’s early development has yet to be conducted. This study begins to address this need by exploring how two other informal learning environments—a museum and a zoo—use educator-led dramatic play experiences in storytimes with the goal of understanding how libraries might be able to incorporate dramatic play experiences in their storytimes to create a more in-depth playful learning experience. To elucidate the nature of the museum and zoo’s educator-led dramatic play experiences, this study explored (1) characteristics of their educator-led dramatic play experiences, and (2) the learning behaviors that children were exhibiting while participating in the dramatic play. The results revealed that the educator-led dramatic play episodes in both environments consisted of one long, immersive oral story with other types of play interspersed within the larger story structure. The data also revealed that the children were exhibiting many different types of learning behaviors while participating in the dramatic play experiences. Based on these findings, implications, and recommendations are provided for libraries around designing and using dramatic play in their storytimes to help transform the traditional library storytime structure into a more in-depth playful learning experience.
The interpretation and implementation of play in the Jamaican preschool has evolved over the years. The benefits of play are usually highlighted but the teaching of academic skills, rather than developing the preschooler’s natural exploration of their environments, has been given precedence. Four to five decades ago children were told, “just go outside and play” which resulted in children playing outdoor games such as baseball, dandy-shandy, marbles, cricket, football, jacks or creating their own games. Preschoolers today are not being given the educational experiences and opportunities to be natural explorers and investigators as incorporating play through their daily activities is not being fully actualized. In the last decade, national initiatives have encouraged the implementation of play-based learning. This chapter reviews the challenges being experienced by early childhood practitioners (ECPs) in using more play-based learning techniques to encourage STEM in the early childhood environment. The value and purpose of play in the Jamaica Early Childhood Curriculum continues to be the source of much debate. The authors’ questions are based on ECPs having clear understanding of play and its role in children’s development. Should there be such policies as “no work sheets and textbooks” in the preschool classroom to place more emphasis on STEM education?
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In this article I examine children’s evolved learning mechanisms that make humans the most educable of animals. These include: (1) skeletal perceptual and cognitive mechanisms that get fleshed out over the course of development, mainly through play; (2) a high level of plasticity that is greatest early in life but that persists into adulthood; (3) remarkable social-learning capabilities; and (4) dispositions toward exploration and play. I next examine some evolutionary mismatches – conflicts between psychological mechanisms evolved in ancient environments and their utility in modern ones – specifically with respect to modern educational systems. I then suggest some ways educators can take advantage of children’s evolved learning abilities to minimize the effects of evolutionary mismatches, including: (1) following developmentally appropriate practices (which are also evolutionarily appropriate practices); (2) increasing opportunities for physical activities; (3) increasing opportunities to learn through play; and (4) taking advantage of stress-adapted children’s “hidden talents.” I argue that evolutionary theory informs teachers and parents about how children evolved to learn and can result in more-enlightened teaching methods that will result in a more enjoyable and successful learning experiences for children. Key Terms: plasticity; social learning; exploration; play; evolutionary mismatches; developmentally appropriate practice
Young children have a nascent capacity to understand how to control variables to uncover causal structure. However, they do not always explore their environment in a way that generates appropriate data for causal learning. Here, we consider a potential reason that children do not explore systematically: whether the nature of their first action influences their subsequent play. Four- to 7-year-olds (N = 105) saw ambiguous data about a novel causal system and were then allowed to explore this system through play. The nature of their first action – specifically whether it varied only one potential cause and whether it was efficacious – affected their subsequent exploration, particularly whether they generated the data necessary to learn the causal structure. But generating these data, independent of their first action, related to whether they disambiguated the data they had initially observed. These results suggest that the extent to which children can learn from their own exploration in play might depend on how that play unfolds.
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Characterizing behavior in any organism as play, including in humans, has often been controversial. Intuitive understandings of what constitutes 'play' are often difficult to describe in words so that other researchers can use them. This leads to problems in comparing studies, formulating and testing research hypotheses, and even in having a shared conversation. To alleviate this problem, many attempts have been made to define or identify play in all its guises. Unfortunately, these attempts have generally failed due to the narrow context in which they have been developed or the conceptual language in which they are expressed (e.g., cognitive, behavioristic, physiological). A careful perusal of these attempts has led to the identification of a set of five criteria, each of which need to be satisfied in at least one respect, in order to identify a behavior as play in whatever context or species being studied. In addition, play can be viewed as operating, at a functional level, in three processes (primary, secondary, tertiary) spanning the continuum from the seemingly atavistic to the developmentally valuable if not essential. Where specific instances of play fall along this continuum can only be answered by empirical research and not by inference from the labels we give to them. In any event, conceptual clarity appears necessary for scientific progress.
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Children are in the midst of a vast, unplanned experiment, surrounded by digital technologies that were not available but 5 years ago. At the apex of this boom is the introduction of applications ("apps") for tablets and smartphones. However, there is simply not the time, money, or resources available to evaluate each app as it enters the market. Thus, "educational" apps-the number of which, as of January 2015, stood at 80,000 in Apple's App Store (Apple, 2015)-are largely unregulated and untested. This article offers a way to define the potential educational impact of current and future apps. We build upon decades of work on the Science of Learning, which has examined how children learn best. From this work, we abstract a set of principles for two ultimate goals. First, we aim to guide researchers, educators, and designers in evidence-based app development. Second, by creating an evidence-based guide, we hope to set a new standard for evaluating and selecting the most effective existing children's apps. In short, we will show how the design and use of educational apps aligns with known processes of children's learning and development and offer a framework that can be used by parents and designers alike. Apps designed to promote active, engaged, meaningful, and socially interactive learning-four "pillars" of learning-within the context of a supported learning goal are considered educational. © The Author(s) 2015.
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Decades of research demonstrate that a strong curricular approach to preschool education is important for later developmental outcomes. Although these findings have often been used to support the implementation of educational programs based on direct instruction, we argue that guided play approaches can be equally effective at delivering content and are more developmentally appropriate in their focus on child-centered exploration. Guided play lies midway between direct instruction and free play, presenting a learning goal, and scaffolding the environment while allowing children to maintain a large degree of control over their learning. The evidence suggests that such approaches often outperform direct-instruction approaches in encouraging a variety of positive academic outcomes. We argue that guided play approaches are effective because they create learning situations that encourage children to become active and engaged partners in the learning process.
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A school became safer after security measures were removed. Children can learn better in playful, rather than didactic, settings. At-risk students earned higher grades after writing about a personal value. A novel construct - mise en place - explains how small changes in context, such as these, can lead to large changes in behaviors by highlighting how the psychology of preparing to act within an environment shapes and is shaped by that environment.
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Play, Mathematics, and False Dichotomies ( is hosting a blog forum on play-based learning in early childhood education, including posts from national experts in the field. Learn more about the forum here ( Some worry that the push for quality education even partially driven by a desire to improve achievement may deprive children of important childhood experiences. Others worry that unstructured play without teacher engagement does little to develop children's minds, particularly for children at high risk of academic failure. Let's stop the cycle of "abuse"—or at least confusion—that stems from false dichotomies in early education. "Play vs. academics" is arguably the main one. Of course children should play. But this does not mean they should not learn, and even play, with mathematics. Consider the following. 1. In their free play, children naturally engage ( in mathematics.[i] (/Users/meganca/Downloads/Clements%20&%20Saramakb.docx#_edn1) Observations of preschoolers show that when they play, they engage in mathematical thinking at least once in almost half of each minute of play. Almost 9 out of 10 of children engage ( in at one or more math activities during play episodes.[ii] (/Users/meganca/Downloads/Clements%20&%20Saramakb.docx#_edn2) 2. This mathematical play reveals intuitive knowledge of many concepts that most people think young children can't understand, from arithmetic, to proportions, to parallelism and right angles. Unfortunately, the same children may not "understand" these concepts when they arrive in middle school. If they are not helped to mathematize ( (reflect on, give language to) their early "theorems in action,"[iii] (/Users/meganca/Downloads/Clements%20&%20Saramakb.docx#_edn3) the ideas do not become theorems in thought. 3. Many adults, including early educators, believe that sequenced, intentional instruction will harm children's play. These concerns are misplaced. Math and literacy instruction increase the quality of young children's play. Children in classrooms with a stronger emphasis on literacy or math are more likely to engage in a higher quality of social-dramatic play.[iv] (/Users/meganca/Downloads/Clements%20&%20Saramakb.docx#_edn4) The new ideas energize high-level play activity. Thus, high-quality instruction in math and high-quality free play do not have to "compete" for time in the classroom. Doing both makes each richer. Unfortunately,
Efforts to give preschool children a head start on academic skills like reading and mathematics instead rob them of play time both at home and school. Indeed, the scientific evidence suggests that eliminating play from the lives of children is taking preschool education in the wrong direction. This brief but compelling book provides a strong counterargument to the rising tide of didactic instruction on preschool classrooms. The book presents scientific evidence in support of three points: children need both unstructured free time and playful learning under the gentle guidance of adults to best prepare for entrance into formal school; academic and social development are inextricably intertwined, so academic learning must not trump attention to social development; and learning and play are not incompatible. Rather, playful learning captivates children's minds in ways that support better academic and social outcomes as well as strategies for lifelong learning. This book reviews research supporting playful learning along with succinct policy and practice recommendations that derive from this research. © 2009 by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Laura E. Berk, and Dorothy G. Singer. All rights reserved.
This study examined the effects of literacy-enriched play settings on preschoolers' literacy behaviors in spontaneous free play. 91 children, ages 3-5, from two urban day-care centers participated in the study. Prior to and following the intervention, the frequency of each child's handling, reading, and writing behaviors in play was assessed through direct observation. Videotaped samples of play areas examined the nature of children's play themes and their uses of literacy objects in play. Following baseline observations, the physical environment of one of the day-care centers was enriched with literacy objects in three distinct play centers: kitchen, office, and library. Significant differences were recorded for the intervention group in the frequency, duration, and complexity of literacy demonstrations in play. Further, children in the intervention group incorporated literacy objects in more diverse and functional ways in their play, using more explicit language than the nonintervention group. /// [French] Cette etude a porté sur les effets de situations de jeu comportant des objets pour lire et écrire sur les comportements relatifs à la lecture-écriture d'enfants d'âge préscolaire en situation de jeu spontané et sans contrainte. 91 enfants, de 3 à 5 ans, provenant de deux centres d'une ville, ont participé à la recherche. On a évalué par observation directe la fréquence des comportements de saisie, de lecture et d'écriture de chaque enfant, avant et après intervention. Des échantillons vidéo des domaines de jeu portent sur les thèmes de jeu et sur l'utilisation objects pour lire et écrire. Conformément aux observations de départ, l'environnement physique de l'un des centres comporte des objets pour lire et écrire, appartenant à trois domaines différents: la Cuisine, le Bureau, et la Bibliothèque. On a relevé des différences significatives pour le groupe d'intervention en fréquence, durée et complexité des manifestations de lecture-écriture. En outre, les enfants du groupe d'intervention ont introduit les objets de lecture-écriture. En outre, les enfants du groupe d'intervention ont introduit dans leurs jeux les objets de lecture-écriture de façon plus diversifiée et plus fonctionnelle, tout en utilisant un langage plus explicite que ceux du groupe sans intervention. /// [Spanish] Este estudio examinó los efectos de medio ambientes de juegos de alfabetización enriquecidos en las conductas alfabetizadoras de niños en edad pre-escolar durante juegos espontáneos. Participaron 91 niños entre 3-5 años, de dos centros urbanos pre-escolares. Mediante la observación directa antes y durante la intervención, se verificó la frecuencia de cada niño en el comportamiento y manejo de la lectura y la escritura durante el juego. Se grabaron videos de las areas de juego que examinaron la naturaleza de los temas y los usos de objetos de alfabetización. Continuando las observaciones básicas, el entorno físico de uno de los centros urbanos pre-escolares fue enriquecido con objetos alfabetizantes de tres centros de juegos distintos: la Cocina, La Oficina, y la Biblioteca. Se registraron diferencias significativas en el grupo intervenido en lo que hace a la frecuencia, duración y complejidad de las demostraciones alfabetizantes del juego. Más aún, los niños del grupo intervenido incorporaron objetos de alfabetización durante sus juegos de formas más diversas y funcionales utilizando lenguaje más explícito que el grupo no intervenido. /// [German] Die vorliegende Studie untersucht Auswirkungen von schriftsprachlich angereicherten Spielumgebungen auf das Lese-Rechtschreib-Verhalten von Vorschulkindern im spontanen freien Spiel. 91 Kinder im Alter zwischen 3 und 5 Jahren aus zwei städtischen Kindertagesstätten nahmen an der Studie teil. Vor und nach der Intervention wurde für jedes Kind die Häufigkeiten der Objekthandhabung, des Lesens und Schreibens durch direkte Beobachtung erfaßt. Die Spielthemen der Kinder wurden anhand stichprobenartiger Videoaufzeichnungen der Spielzonen erhoben. In einer der Tagesstätten wurde nach der baseline-Beobachtung die Umgebung von drei Spielzentren (Küche, Büro und Bibliothek) mit schriftsprachlichen Objekten angereichert. In der Interventionsgruppe zeigten sich signifikante Unterschiede hinsichtlich der Häufigkeit, Dauer und Komplexität von schriftsprachlichem Verhalten im Spiel. Weiterhin bezogen die Kinder der Interventionsgruppe Leseobjekte in vielfältigerer und stärker funktionaler Weise in ihr Spiel ein und verwendeten explizitere Sprache als die Kinder der Kontrollgruppe.