The Ultimate Block Party's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘play and learning

“Enforced exercise does no harm to the body, but enforced learning will not stay in the mind. So avoid compulsion, and let your children’s lessons take the form of play” –Plato (The Republic, vii, 536, in Cornford, 1945).

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In this month’s Child Development issue, researchers examined how classroom activities promote learning on certain school readiness measures, like  vocabulary, letter-naming, and number-naming. In a study of over 2,700 pre-Kindergarten children, the res earchers compared kids that were mostly engaged in free play (the teacher didn’t direct or engage with the children), individual instruction (the teacher instructed an individual child who then worked on projects independently), group instruction (the teacher directly instructed a group of students), and scaffolded learning (the teacher interacted directly with children and helped them to go slightly beyond the level of play that they were able to achieve on their own).

So—what did they find? Children who spent most of their time engaged in free play showed the smallest gains over the course of the year while children in instructional activities exhibited the greatest gains. This is consistent with other studies— and it is not surprising—if a child has no one pointing them in the right direction and children’s activities/toys are not assembled in a way that promotes discovery, it will be difficult to impossible to make the same academic gains as children who have help. Having said that, direct instruction is NOT the only alternative….
Guided play: The middle ground.

Guided play represents the midpoint between free play and direct instructional methods—blending curricular goals and play. How is this accomplished? A teacher embeds materials into play environments and then helps guide children’s discovery and exploration of new information. Teachers guide learning in a variety of ways—including modeling, co-playing, asking questions during play, and creating games/play activities. When we look closer at this study, we see that the scaffolded learning group is similar to guided play. In fact, the scaffolded group had similar learning outcomes to those receiving instruction! This coincides with the growing body of research that shows guided play is stronger than other direct instruction methods!

Here are some take-home messages to think about:

(1) “Guided play” – an instructional method. Guided play is a great method to engage children in a fun, exciting way while fostering learning goals and key skills! Create fun games and activities  that help children learn new things and practice their new skills!!

(2) Not all “academic readiness skills” are equal. Studies show free play and guided play activities promote a variety of social, physical, and ‘thinking’ skills, while direct instruction narrowly promotes curricular content. Remember the 6 C’s you saw at the Ultimate Block Party? As children played with partners and adults—they fostered collaboration, communication, creative innovation, content knowledge, confidence, and critical thinking! The combination of these skills is just as important as learning ABC’s and numbers for later success! So free- and guided-play are key (and one should not be emphasized over another)!

(3) Look at the BIG picture. Over the last fifty years, researchers have compared preschool models and found play-based practices have long-term, positive impacts on children’s health, social skills, motivation to learn, and academic achievement. While direct instruction models have sometimes shown short-term academic gains over play-based practices, these findings often fade over time, and sometimes result in  negative social outcomes (e.g., emotional issues, attention problems, etc). Children must be able to focus, concentrate, converse and respect others, and self-regulate their behaviors/emotions— all of which are developed through free- and guided-play.

(4) Learning does not start/stop with school. Your children only spend about 14% of their day in school, so YOU have an active role in helping your child learn. Try some guided play techniques at home! Here are some examples: 

  • “I Spy Shapes!” – Ask your child to find all of the different types of rectangles are in the room. Help her ‘discover’ the shape properties—How are they different? How are they similar?
  • “Grocery Store Challenge” – On your next trip to the grocery store, ask your child math-related questions like “If I eat an apple, how many do I have left?”, “How many letter A’s do you see on this box of cereal?,” “How many pieces of gum can I get with a dollar?”
  • “Sing-A-long” – Make up funny songs with your children using new vocabulary words or math concepts. Here are some examples.
  • “Story-board learning” – Ask children to create a story board using their new knowledge. For example, if the children learned about different seasons, ask your child to draw four pictures of him playing during those seasons. He can then act out the story for you!
  • Check out a children’s museum in your area. You will see playful learning materialize before your eyes! Not sure where one is? Find one here!

Featured Article:

Chien, N. C., Howes, C., Burchinal, M., Pianta, R. C., Ritchie, S., Bryant, D. M., et al. (2010). Children’s classroom engagement and school readiness gains in prekindergarten. Child Development, 81, 1534-1549.

Interested in Learning More?

Fisher, K., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R.M., Berk, L., & Singer, D. (2010, in press). Playing around in school: Implications for learning and educational policy. In A. Pellegrini (Ed), Handbook of the Development of Play. Oxford University Press.

Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R., Berk, L., & Singer, D. (2008). A Manifesto for playful learning in preschool: Presenting the scientific evidence. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Marcon, R. (1999). Differential impact of preschool models on development and early learning of inner-city children: A three cohort study. Developmental Psychology, 35, 358-375.

Stipek, D., Daniels, D., Galluzzo, D., Millburn, S., & Salmon, J. M. (1998). Good beginnings: What difference does the program make in preparing young children for school. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 19, 41-66.

Golbeck, S.L. (2001). Instructional models for early childhood: In search of a child regulated/teacher-guided pedagogy. In S.L. Golbeck (Ed.), Psychological perspectives on early childhood education: Reframing dilemmas in research and practice (pp. 3 – 29). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Pellegrini, A. (2005). Recess: Its role in education and development. Mahwah, NJ: Psychology Press.

This blog was written by Dr. Kelly Fisher, Postdoctoral Fellow at Temple University, and Dr. Jennifer Zosh, Assistant Professor at Pennsylvania State University, Brandywine

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What do you see when you walk down an aisle in the grocery store? Across the walkway, a 2-year-old girl sits in the cart exploring broccoli, a 4-year-old boy exclaims “circle!” as he points to a shape on a cereal box, and a 3-year-old sits in the cart, quietly, playing with the iPhone. Yes. the iPhone! There are now numerous apps aimed directly at preschoolers,  with some directly marketed as having learning and educational value.

Developmental experts caution against the growing ‘iPhone toy’ trend in the recent New York Times article, iPhones for Toddlers. Children’s learning and brain development center on active experiences within the world. Through play and exploration, children link ideas to real-world-experiences, which becomes the basis for complex concepts and skills they learn later in life.

Evidence suggests young children have difficulty learning from screen media (e.g. television, video, computers)–particularly for the under 3 crowd. Although children are captivated by gadgets and technology, it does not necessarily mean that they are beneficial. Read more…

Interested in Learning More?

The Kaiser Family Foundation. The Effects of Electronic Media on Children Ages Zero to Six: A History of Research.

Resnick, M. (2004). Edutainment? No Thanks. I Prefer Playful Learning.

Linebarger, D. (2005). Infants’ and toddlers’ television viewing and language outcomes.

Schmidt, M.E. & Vandewater, E.W. (2008). Electronic media and learning and achievement. The Future of Children, 18, 63-86.

This blog was written by Dr. Kelly Fisher, Postdoctoral Fellow at Temple University.

What is the capital of Pennsylvania?  Who is the President of the United States?  What are mitochondria? Where are the everglades? These are all questions that our children face every day when they go into the classroom or talk with adults.  And it makes sense – we want our children to have knowledge about the facts of the world.  But does memorizing facts lead to children becoming doctors, engineers, or scientists?  The answer to this question may

Where goeth creative thinking?

surprise you!

“The Creativity Crisis” appeared in Newsweek over the summer and makes a strong case for emphasizing play and creativity over facts and IQ scores.  The authors of the article highlight the fact that children’s scores on tests of creativity have FALLEN over the past two decades even though they had been rising steadily for decades.  And these creativity scores do a much better job of predicting lifetime creative accomplishment than childhood IQ scores.  Our children are becoming less creative and less flexible – certainly a worry for today’s parents and for tomorrow’s future!

But don’t despair – creativity is not something that today’s kids just don’t have.  Instead, we can help foster creativity, ingenuity, flexibility, and a love of learning in children through play!  For instance, at the Ultimate Block Party, we will give your children the opportunity o problem-solve and work with new friends to create a new skyscraper or a block tower.  They will be able to create their own art and use everyday materials to create new structures.  They can practice how to express their feelings and emotions while pretending they are chefs or learning how to ‘clown around.’  The opportunities for your child to learn how to be creative are endless and the Ultimate Block Party aims to show you just a few ways that we can reverse this “Creativity Crisis.”  We look forward to seeing you soon!

This blog was written by Dr. Jennifer Zosh, Assistant Professor at Pennsylvania State University, Brandywine.


We are  pleased to announce that mother of 3 and esteemed actress, Sarah Jessica Parker, has agreed to be a special spokesperson for the Ultimate Block Party!

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We have been roaming the streets asking moms and dads, celebrities and politicians, lawyers and musicians how they played when they were kids and how this shaped who they became. Here is what Sarah Jessica Parker had to say….

“I am one of 8 children. I grew up in a home filled with chaos. How could it be otherwise?  And I think early on we were both encouraged and taught to use our imaginations. And our legs. Our imaginations were used for story telling, making games up, playing with dolls and creating lives for them, listening to records of comedians and broadway shows, roller skating in the house during long, cold midwestern winters and deeply enjoying some of the finer board games such as masterpiece, milles bourne, monopoly and the game of life. On days where weather cooperated we spent hours and hours outdoors making massive piles of leaves, playing kick the can, climbing trees, rolling down hills, riding tricycles then bikes and simply roaming around the neighborhood in packs of children from 6 years to the “big kid” age of 12 and 13 years old.

We learned to compete, lose, argue, solve conflicts, create teams and never grow bored. We barely remembered we were hungry. We learned to win like the older kids and how to take care of the younger ones. We schemed, got hurt, laughed, cried and eventually when the street lights went on, reluctantly said goodbye and made our way home.

Upon reflection, I’m not surprised I ended up choosing my work. And all I learned the easy and hard way has been enormously helpful in pursuing my adult work. Being creative, collaborative, resourceful, responsible, accountable and excited. I realize those are adjectives that describe how I learned to play, during the most important and influential years of my life.”

Sarah Jessica Parker, Actress and Mother

Talent, Interests, Knowledge, and Skills—Begin with Child’s Play

Did you ever wonder where all of Sarah Jessica Parker’s talent came from?  How she helps us to imagine worlds that don’t actually exist and get caught up in story play that lasts for years?  This amazing mother and actress credits play!  As you can see from her quote, she learned firsthand how play (and not flashcards, forced lessons, or guilt-tripped tutoring!) helped her practice the skills that have allowed her to succeed.  In a house full of children and chaos, she “played her way” to becoming the mother and actress that she is today!

But how does play shape us? As children play, there’s a lot of learning going on underneath. Research shows that when children engage in imaginative play, like pretending to be a fairy princess in a far-away land, they learn how to develop a storyline, role-play, cooperate with others, regulate their attention, and work their creative juices! And what about when they get those board games out? They practice counting, logic, and cooperation! When we peer beneath the surface of play, we see the foundations of the future!

How Did Play Shape YOU?

All adults, celebrities or not, used to be kids! Think about it and feel free to add your answers on our Ultimate Block Party facebook page!  Once you give yourself the time and space to answer, you will probably see the power of play in an entirely different light!

“Play for Tomorrow” at the Ultimate Block Party!

By participating in the Ultimate Block Party and taking the lessons you learned home with you, you will be helping to give your child the tools to become the world’s next best actress, actor, mother, father, scientist, teacher, doctor, lawyer, engineer, therapist, nurse, politician, manager, or even president!

Interested in Learning More?

You can visit the play = learning website.

Or, check out some published findings!

Christie, J., & Roskos, K. (2009).Play’s potential in early literacy development. Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development.

Ginsburg, H., Lee, J.S., Boyd, J. (2008). Mathematics education for young children: What it is and how to promote it. SRCD  Social Policy Report: Giving Child and Youth Development Knowledge Away, XXII.

Ramani, G, & Siegler, R. (2008). Promoting broad and stable improvements in low-income children’s numerical knowledge through playing number board games. Child Development, 79, 375 – 394.

Singer, D., Golinkoff, R. M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (Eds.) (2008). Play = learning: How play motivates and enhances children’s cognitive and spcio-emotional growth.  New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Singer, D., & Singer, J. (1992). The house of make believe: Children’s play and the developing imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

This blog was written by Dr. Jennifer Zosh, Assistant Professor at Pennsylvania State University, Brandywine, and Dr. Kelly Fisher, Postdoctoral Fellow at Temple University.

Raffi - Renowned Children's Entertainer

Naturally curious, imaginative and creative, children learn by pretending and imitating and messing up, by trying and failing and succeeding, daring and surrendering—in other words, by playing.

During three decades engaged in musical play with children, I have been advocating on their behalf with the maxim, “Play is the work of the young child.” Through creative play children make sense of the world and their place in it. I applaud the Ultimate Block Party for their efforts to create a unique play experience for children, along with an opportunity for adults to understand that children’s learning is founded in play.

Raffi Cavoukian, Singer, songwriter, author, and founder of the Centre for Child Honouring

The Power of Musical Play
Those of us that are already part of The Ultimate Block Party believe that play is key to learning – and Raffi agrees!
There is not a name more synonymous with children’s music than Raffi. “Baby Beluga” and “Down by the Bay” may have just started to run through your mind just because you read his name. This is the amazing power of musical play! You didn’t need to study these songs or use flashcards, but you remember the fun lyrics and catchy tunes for decades without trying. The power of music is so great that research suggests that playing an instrument in childhood may improve kids’ abilities to hear differences in sounds, increases their fine motor skills and is even associated with better vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning skills! And state-of-the art brain research suggests that these changes are reflected in the structure of the brain! See? Music play isn’t just fun and engaging, but it is a great learning tool that helps kids to develop and learn.

Come Sing, Dance, and Create Music at the Ultimate Block Party!
At the Ultimate Block Party event in Central Park on October 3, you and your child will get the chance to flex your musical muscle by participating in a huge drumming circle full of new friends, dance your cares away with familiar faces from The Electric Company, and even join a pots-and-pans band! But these aren’t the only fun events we will have at the Ultimate Block Party – we will have over 20 additional activities that let you and your child be naturally curious, imagine new worlds, create new works of art, pretend to be someone else, imitate those around them, and even mess up newly built creations. The Ultimate Block Party is going to be a one-day extravaganza that will allow you and your child to play your way to new learning, knowledge, and happy memories. See you there!

Interested in learning more?

You can check out the website of an expert in arts and child development, Dr. Ellen Winner, at Boston College: http://www2.bc.edu/~winner/.

Or, check out the published findings:
Hyde, K., Lerch, J., Norton, A.C., Forgeard, M., Winner, E., Evans, A., & Schlaug (2009). Music training shapes structural brain development. Journal of Neuroscience, 29(10):3019-3025.

Forgeard, M., Winner, E., Norton, A.C., & Schlaug, G. (2008). Practicing a musical instrument in childhood is associated with enhanced verbal ability and nonverbal reasoning. PLoS ONE , 3(10):e3566.

This blog was written by Dr. Jennifer Zosh, Assistant Professor at Pennsylvania State University, Brandywine

Listen to Let’s play – By Raffi Cavoukian



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  • Amanda Gambill: Playworks is so happy to have the Ultimate Block party here in Baltimore! The event is going to be amazing! We are also looked forward to being the mo
  • Shaping Youth » AHA & Nintendo: Tag-Teaming Innovation To Get Kids Moving (Pt2): [...] “fun and games” started taking on an electronic, screen-based focus and child’s play shifted from the ramp-n-rev of the recess bell to bra
  • Beth Kimberly: Absolutely! Recess is an invaluable part of the school day. I love that, as you point out, "there were NO negative impacts of recess." I find it awful
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