During the Coronavirus pandemic and consequent lockdown, a lot of questions have been brought up about education. As children can no longer attend traditional schools, parents are having to figure out how they will manage their children’s education. While it is certainly a challenge, especially insofar as it requires juggling school with work with household maintenance in a way like never before, it’s also a unique opportunity to make individualized choices for what will best suit your children, allowing you to move past the typical understanding of learning as something that takes place through books, spreadsheets, and lectures.
Because, in reality, learning is so much more than that. In fact, one of the best ways to help your children learn is just to give them the space and freedom to engage in unstructured play on their own terms. This article explains why play is so important to learning and how you can leverage it to help your children.
Why Play Is So Important
If your kid would rather build structures out of Legos or play pretend instead of doing worksheets or sitting through Zoom lessons all day, don’t worry, they’re not being lazy or brainless. In fact, just the opposite. Because, especially for young children, education is about so much more than just learning facts and figures.
Many experts consider play absolutely key to learning. In fact, the United Nations has even recognized it as a human right for all children. That’s because play gives children a way to make sense of the world, letting them use their innate curiosity for the better. It encourages creativity and problem solving and lets kids use their imaginations.
Beyond that, play is also critical for setting the stage for further learning and brain development. It develops children’s emerging skills, motivates them, and increases their chances of enjoying the process of learning throughout their lives. According to the Canadian Council on Learning, "Play nourishes every aspect of children’s development – it forms the foundation of intellectual, social, physical, and emotional skills necessary for success in school and in life.”
Here’s a short list of just some of the things that play helps children learn:
What is Play?
But just because play is natural and comes to children easily doesn’t mean that we’re encouraging you to go completely hands-off in their education. On the contrary, the more deliberate your children’s playtime, the more they will get out of it. As a parent, it’s up to you to make sure that your kids are being set up to optimally learn through play.
However, it’s important to know that play should be spontaneous and voluntary. There shouldn’t be any extrinsic goal, and the child should be engaged and enjoying themselves, able to stop whenever they want.
So what's your role in all of this?
Don’t feel pressured to over-schedule your child’s time with books and workbooks and online learning. Instead, give them the unstructured free time to try new things, invent, create, and explore. Create an environment that encourages and facilitates play. Give your child access to blocks, art supplies, games, and costumes and props for their make-believe.
The beautiful thing is that children can and should figure it out for themselves. So you don’t need to feel guilty if you can’t be on top of your child every second, micromanaging their time in the name of education. It’s okay if you need to focus for a bit on your work or chores or self-care. Your kid won’t lose anything for having more free play time. In fact, they’ll probably get even more out of it.
Photo source: https://unsplash.com/photos/ecRuhwPIW7c
There are so many challenges that have come with the global Coronavirus lockdown, and we’re all struggling to make things work in this new, uncharted territory. But one thing that is for certain is that parents are being especially stretched, having to balance working from home and doing their own usual household tasks with the new challenge of helping their kids continue learning in the absence of traditional classroom education.
It’s become clear to many that engaging, motivating, and focusing a child on schoolwork is no easy feat. Here are some tips and ideas you can try out to help inspire your kids to learn while stuck at home.
Make it Fun
One way you can motivate your kids to learn at home is to make learning fun. After all, kids are driven by nothing if not a good time. Of course it will be difficult to encourage your kid to make it through a dreary math worksheet, but you’ll have a much easier time getting them to learn the same exact material if the method of delivery is more engaging.
We highly recommend looking into online learning for kids, which is specifically designed to be engaging for the appropriate age level. For example, there are a myriad of educational websites full of learning games in every subject from English to science to math and more. You might even get lucky and find educational games that your child loves so much that they’d rather do them than play a video game or watch a YouTube video.
Let Them Lead
Another tip to get your kids learning during lockdown is to let them take the lead in the process. In fact, that is a unique advantage of this time. With more freedom, your child can have the opportunity to learn about and explore the topics that are of special interest to them. After all, kids are naturally curious creatures and have an innate drive to learn about new things. Chances are, your child is teeming with questions and topics they want to learn more about.
So take this as an opportunity to get to know your child’s interests and encourage and facilitate their exploration of them. Is your kid an astronomy lover? Get them a children’s telescope. Do they love experimenting with mixing together different liquids from around the house? Consider finding them some chemistry experiments to do. Are they super into the history of ancient Egypt? There are sure to be some kid-friendly books and documentaries on the subject you can give them.
As a parent, you probably already know the power of rewards in disciplining and raising children. From praising your children when they use the potty for the first time to letting your teenager borrow your car after a week of good behaviour, rewards are one of the most powerful tools in the parenting box. And that tool is equally effective when it comes to motivating your child to learn.
Depending on your child’s age, personality, and interests, identify some appropriate rewards that are minor enough to be affordable and easy to give but special enough to make a difference. That might be a sticker, a healthy treat, twenty minutes of video game time, or something else - it’s up to you.
The important part is tying that reward to the achievement of certain learning goals. For example, you might give your child a reward if they manage to finish a certain number of pages in a book by the end of the day. The great thing about this method is that it’s so flexible and can be adjusted to fit your family’s particular needs.
If you can use these tips, you’ll tap into your child’s natural tendencies, interests, and desires to get them learning enthusiastically - and hopefully give you a spare moment to yourself.
Good luck and stay healthy!
Photo by Santi Vedrí on Unsplash
Elizabeth Agbor Eta
Project Director at GraphoGame.
What is social impact of research?
Research plays an important role when it comes to solving complex social problems, producing knowledge for policymaking, and enhancing innovation. Social impact of research refers to the outcomes and benefits of research that are used outside the academic institutions. Broadly speaking, social impact of research includes the interactions, practices and tools that researchers have developed over time with other societal actors.
For example, in the field of education, researchers help policymakers, teachers, schools, pupils and their parents by producing relevant information that can be used in schools and homes. At its best, one can describe social impact of research as a dialogical relationship between the various actors in society. GraphoGame is an example of such dialogue and a ‘carrier’ of social impact. Its development shows how the results of research expand from local settings to a global scale.
Solving local and global literacy problems with GraphoGame
The research behind GraphoGame started in the 1980s in Jyväskylä, Finland, where researchers at the University of Jyväskylä studied learning difficulties and collaborated closely with schools and children with learning difficulties. Over time, the combination of academic and practical work led to the development of learning materials, diagnostic methods, and training tools to be used by professionals and pupils in schools.
A turning point was the discovery of the letter-sound connection as a precursor of dyslexia. It was one of the findings of a longitudinal study and it helped researchers produce new understanding of dyslexia and reading processes. The finding brought together the explanation, prediction and prevention of dyslexia, which was crystallised in the development of GraphoGame. It soon became a motivating yet individual tool for children who were learning how to read.
In Finland, GraphoGame was distributed broadly, but researchers soon realised its potential in other languages. In collaboration with top universities around, GraphoGame has been researched in the following languages: UK English (University of Cambridge Centre for Neuroscience in Education), French (Aix-Marseille University), Dutch (University of Groningen), Portuguese (Politecnico do Porto), Spanish (Pontifical Catholic University of Chile), Chinese Pinyin (Beijing Normal University), Chinese Zhuyin (Academia Sinica), Norwegian (University of Stavanger), Swedish (Lund University), Cinyanja (University of Zambia), U.S English (Yale/Haskins laboretorie).
In any new language, GraphoGame is studied and developed with local researchers. This is paramount since each language and school system is unique. What started as a quest for understanding reading processes and dyslexia in the Finnish context, evolved into a global effort to tackle illiteracy.
Expanding social impact of research with GraphoGame
The example of GraphoGame shows how the different dimensions of social impact come together. First, it was the research findings that helped researchers to understand dyslexia. Second, to make use of that understanding led to the development of a training tool for children. Finally, global collaboration made the dissemination possible, expanding the use of GraphoGame.
It’s easy to see that today’s social problems, such as learning difficulties are complex and link many areas of life together. Learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, are connected to school systems, access to learning materials and individual support. Overcoming difficulties in learning plays an important role in the individual’s life as schools prepare them for working life. Being able to read and write is a basic need, a necessity for future success. In the end, problems related to illiteracy become questions of inclusion, democracy and empowerment. The solutions may require time to materialise but with the help of research, it is easier to understand the phenomena behind the problems and tackle them early on.
Check out GraphoGame today for more information on how this evidence-based literacy game is helping kindergarten and primary school children around the world to learn to read and spell in an engaging, simple and fun way.
Photo Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/vbxyFxlgpjM
Terhi Esko (M.Soc.Sci) is a researcher focusing on science, technology and innovation studies. Terhi Esko studied the development of GraphoGame in her doctoral dissertation. Currently she works at Tampere University studying the emergence of health tech and life science firms in Finland. Her doctoral dissertation ‘Societal Problem Solving and University Research. Science-Society Interaction and Social Impact in the Educational and Social Sciences’ will be publicly examined on May 15 2020 at the University of Helsinki at 13 o’clock (live streaming at http://video.helsinki.fi/unitube/live-stream.html?room=l6)