The Power of Play


The Power of Play

August 26, 2019

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Play is a fundamental way to learn.

Learn more about the role of play in children’s learning through the following articles and links.

Planning Guide for Parents

A visit to the Children’s Museum of South Dakota is exciting. We invite you to some time to explore different ways to support your family’s visit and to enhance it – whether it’s your family’s first visit or 907th visit!

In this article, we’ll highlight what children are learning when they engage in activities throughout the Museum. Learning is often defined as gaining knowledge about something, building skills, creating lifelong learning habits or dispositions, and experiencing feelings directly connected to the activity.

Development in young children can be divided into several areas, although all are interconnected. The word development implies that children’s experiences build on previous experiences and that these experiences move from simple to more complex over time. Often society pressures children to learn academic knowledge early in life with urgency in order to build a competitive edge.

To their credit, children are capable of gaining academic knowledge at early points in their life and development when pressured, yet often it is to the detriment of another area of learning: lifelong learning dispositions or feelings about learning. By listening to children and supporting their current focus, adults will help children learn in a balanced fashion among knowledge, skills, dispositions, and feelings about learning.

The Children’s Museum of South Dakota is a place where every answer is valued. There is more than one way to do everything. It’s a place to explore and let the possibilities abound.

Where to begin …

One question that may arise for you, as a family, is, ‘where to begin?’ As you look through the descriptions of the galleries and exhibits and see all that’s available, consider what motivates your child and what motivates you.

Howard Gardner describes individuals having a mixture of 8 different ways to learn that help form what motivates them, called multiple intelligences.

As part of this guide, we have highlighted what multiple intelligences are supported in each activity and have made the information available to you as a way to help choose where to begin or where to go next by ‘matching up’ what motivates children and the different galleries.

How to pace your visit

Often when children are visiting a new place, they will want to take it all in. They may want to run from one place to the next looking at what all there is to see. If you find that happening, consider doing a quick tour to see what is available and then ask, “Where should we start?” or maybe suggest a few places to begin that you think your child will enjoy.

On later visits, you may find that your child will wish to stay at one place for a long period of time. It may become like visiting a ‘good friend’. Your child may have found a favorite spot in the museum, or it may be that he/she is focusing on a particular type of developmental skill, practicing it to perfection. Regardless, giving your child the opportunity to set the pace while moving from exhibit to exhibit when you can will be extremely beneficial.

Learning through play

Play is a powerful tool in a child’s world. Children use play to develop in all aspects of their being – emotional, social, cognitive, and physical development. They try out imaginary roles while trying on costumes or using props, work on problem-solving by putting objects together in different ways, and expand their vocabulary by using words to describe what they are doing while they play. Play is an essential tool for current and later learning.

As an important person in your child’s life, you have a very vital role in your child’s play. While visiting the museum, we encourage you to become a partner in play & learning.

Listen and talk with your child

Observe – Observe how and what children are doing. Taking time to step back and watch how children play can provide valuable insights into how children are thinking and developing.

Closely listen – Hearing what children are saying clues adults into what and how they are thinking. Talking through ideas and paraphrasing what they say will help children to think more clearly about the tasks at hand.

Use open-ended questions – Using open-ended questions, such as “What do you think happened?” or “How do you think that happened?” provide opportunities for multiple ways to answer. It allows for children to form their ideas without looking for a one-right answer.

Expand play & ideas – As children play, stretching what they are doing can encourage them to play in more complex ways. Lev Vygotsky called this – scaffolding for the next step. The next step can be: joining in the play, imitating the child’s actions, introducing a related but new idea, or offering a related suggestion. Join in a child’s play by doing what he or she is doing, and then change it slightly by adding an idea or action. For example, if a child is building a vertical stack of blocks, perhaps adding a new shape of block on your own tower or balancing a block horizontally while building your own tower.

Use Language – Providing words to describe and expand children’s thinking, as well as using different words to paraphrase what children have said or done will give opportunities to expand their language skills and depth of their vocabulary.

Play with your child – Take time to play yourself! There are opportunities to use adult-sized costumes, to take on a role, to get down on the floor and build away! Make the most of your time together.

Share the moment – Relax and have fun with your child. This is a place to enjoy each other’s company and make memories together.

Savor the time with your child – Childhood goes by very quickly. Savor the opportunities to spend time together. Soon they will be off doing other activities.

Benefits of Play

Emotional Benefits

  • Fun & love of life
  • Relaxation
  • Developing creativity & self-expression

Cognitive Benefits

  • Imagination
  • Abstract Thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Perspective Taking
  • Experience and Mastery of new concepts
  • Attention Development/Concentration
  • Persistence
  • Enriched Vocabulary
  • Emergent Literacy Experiences
  • Communication Skills

Social Benefits

  • Self-confidence
  • Self-esteem
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Turn-taking
  • Self Regulation

Physical Benefits

  • Large Muscle Coordination
  • Small Muscle Experiences
  • Mastery of Body in Space
  • Self-confidence in Body Movement

Educational Benefits

  • Opportunities to practice skills – repeatedly
  • Opportunities for collaborative learning with adults and peers
  • Opportunities for exploration & “messy about” with materials which lead to discovering new ideas
  • Opportunities for learning in a meaningful context – using the learning in meaningful ways
  • Opportunities for ‘safe’ risk-taking experiences, which builds confidence
  • Opportunities to laugh while learning, building enjoyment of life long learning

Did you know – that all of the activities and exhibits at the museum tie into South Dakota and Minnesota State Education Standards? For more information about how the exhibits and activities are based on the education standards, go to the Teach On! post.