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Learning through Play. Play is Learning. Learning is Playing.

It’s not just common knowledge, research confirmed this as well: play is essential for learning. And actually play is the best method of learning! Why spending time learning when you could actually play (and learn)? Play involves creativity. Play involved imagination. In the eyes of a young child, running, pretending, building are all fun activities and way of expression yourself. An more academic definition from Beverlie Dietze and Diane Kashin in Playing and Learning in Early Childhood Education is Play is active, child-initiated, process oriented, intrinsic, episodic, rule-governed, and symbolic.

Play is a fundamental right of every child. This was actually recognised by the United Nations in 1989. Children need the freedom to explore and play. Play also contributes to brain development. There is a false mainstream sense that playing and learning are two clear-cut concepts. Unfortunately the pressure of modern society on delivering results, filling assessments, tests preparations affects the amount of time children spend playing, and consequently learning. This is counter-intuitive and counterproductive. See this research article from David Elki, The Power of Play, Learning that Comes Naturally, 2008, University of Illinois.

Play means pleasure; and learning can be pleasure. Play is intrinsically motivated, there is no goal to fulfil, only a sense of freewill. Play is spontaneous and voluntary and void of any external pressure to deliver results. This is why flashcards and educational toys are artifice. They mislead and push children in a learning activity while giving a false sense of play. Childhood play develops all soft skills strongly needed later on during adult life such as problem solving, language acquisition, literacy, numeracy and social, physical, and emotional intelligence.

It reminds me of a great quote from O. Fred Donaldson, author of “Playing by Heart”

“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.”

“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.” - O. Fred Donaldson
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Maria Montessori, the teacher ahead of her time

Maria Montessori surrounded by children at school

Doctor Maria Montessori. What a great woman. In the early twentieth century, she elaborated an innovative and controversial method of education, now simply called Montessori.

Each child is an individual 

Montessori is the premise that children are individuals and should be given the opportunity to be guided or coordinated through the environment instead of being instructed by a mentor. 

In lesser words. Figure it out. Do it yourself. 

With support though. Children develop at their own pace and instructors observes the children and adapt the activities and environments to meet their own needs. 

An environment to develop self-discipline and self-confidence 

The emphasis is placed on the use of specific equipment and other dedicated assets to capture interest and lead to creativity, initiative, independence, inner discipline and self-confidence. Help the children to reveal their personal attributes and interests. 

The environment is organised and free from clutter. Indoor or outdoor. 

The environment supports activities meaningful learning experiences. Initially focussing on perception of size, shape, volume, colour, pattern, odour, sound and texture. Later, in discoveries relating to mathematics, language and literacy, art, music, science, and social studies 

The first steps to learn how to write 

Montessori has five essential stages of observation. Practical life, sensorial education, language education, mathematics and the cultural area.  

Practical life experiences cover all daily routines and how to handle them. Like tying shoelaces or opening and closing drawers. Sensorial education covers the use of the five senses and especially how to feel and hold a pencil. A major step in the long learning curve of writing.

Maria Montessori memorable anecdote 

Let’s finish with this anecdote which marks the beginning of his research on his method of education 

“I was making my first essays in applying the principles and part of the material I had used for many years previously in the education of deficient children, to the normal children of the San Lorenzo quarter in Rome, when I happened to notice a little girl of about three years old deeply absorbed in a set of solid insets, removing the wooden cylinders from their respective holes and replacing them.  

The expression on the child’s face was one of such concentrated attention that it seemed to me an extraordinary manifestation; up to this time none of the children had ever shown such fixity of interest in an object; and my belief in the characteristic instability of attention in young children, who flit incessantly from one thing to another, made me peculiarly alive to the phenomenon. 
 
I watched the child intently without disturbing her at first, and began to count how many times she repeated the exercise; then, seeing that she was continuing for a long time, I picked up the little arm-chair in which she was seated, and placed chair and child upon the table; the little creature hastily caught up her case of insets, laid it across the arms of her chair, and gathering the cylinders into her lap, set to work again.  

Then I called upon all the children to sing; they sang, but the little girl continued undisturbed, repeating her exercise even after the short song had come to an end. I counted forty-four repetitions when at last she ceased, it was quite independently of any surrounding stimuli which might have distracted her, and she looked round with a satisfied air, almost as if awaking from a refreshing nap. 
 
I think my never-to-be-forgotten impression was that experienced by one who has made a discovery.” 

— Maria Montessori, Advanced Montessori Method, 1917