Preschool children learn through play (Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2009; Weisberg et al., 2015). Guided play advances cognitive skills like language (Pelligrini & Galda, 1990, and Golinkoff, Hirsh-Pasek, Russ & Lillard, 2013 for reviews), reading (Bergen & Maurer, 2000; Belin & Singer 2006), as well as social skills like emotion regulation (Berk et al, 2006). Despite evidence linking play to development (Zigler et al., 2004; Falk, 2012), parents, educators and policy makers worry that playtime takes children away from precious academic activities. Playtime has dropped precipitously from 40% in 1981 to 25% in 1997. In the last two decades children have lost 8 hours of free play-time per week. Research in our laboratory is trying to better understand the link between play and learning by looking not only at free play, but also at guided play (Weisberg, Zosh, Hirsh-Pasek & Golinkoff, 2013; Taub et al., in press). In guided play, or playful learning, children take the lead, but adults support their exploration through props and by interacting in ways that scaffold interest and learning. Our work in this area suggests that children need more time both for free play and for guided play and that guided play might offer a promising new pedagogy that helps children thrive academically. Our books Einstein never used flashcards (Rodale) and A Mandate for playful learning (Oxford) make this case as do several new articles showing the promise of spatial and math play (Fisher et al., 2012), playing learning in reading (Weisberg et al., 2015) and playful learning through the arts (Reed et al, 2012).
Our lab just completed a review of how playful learning could be applied in the area of educational apps (Hirsh-Pasek, et al., 2015). We are also working hard to better understand the mechanisms that support playful learning (Weisberg, Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, McCandliss, 2014).
Our work on playful learning continues through our Harvard University Frontiers of Innovation Working Group and in our work on the Steering Committee for the Network on Learning through Play sponsored by the LEGO Foundation.
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.
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…
As the traditional toys of the past are quickly being replaced with electronically “enhanced” toys, it is important to understand how these changes impact parent–child interactions, especially in light of the evidence that the richness and variety of these interactions have long-term effects on diverse areas of cognition (Hart & Risley, 1995).
Playing with blocks helps STEM learning
Guided play helps spatial learning: People have speculated that play with construction toys might offer rich language and learning environments that would support later learning in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. In one of our first studies, we investigated how the quality of parent-child interaction in play with blocks support early STEM language. With the help of MegaBloks, we brought families into the lab and placed them in one of three groups: the free play group, the guided play group and the preassembled group. The guided play group was asked to build a heliport. The preassembled group receiverad a preassembled heliport. And the free play group could do whatever they wished with the blocks. In phase two of the study the families are given exactly the same blocks and asked to build a garage. Interestingly, in phase 1, the guided play condition elicited far more spatial language than is apparent in the other two groups. In the follow-up phase, everyone was now in guided play and everyone used rich spatial language (Ferrara et al., 2011).
Guided play and baby geometry: Similar findings emerged when we studied how children learn geometric shapes like squares and circles (Fisher et al., 2013). We even know that children learn more about these shapes using good old-fashioned shape sorters rather than electronic shape sorters (Zosh et al., in press)
Block play and math learning: Our continuing work shows that the spatial learning we develop in block play relates not only to spatial outcomes, but also to early mathematical learning (Verdine et al., 2014; Verdine et al., 2015).
Are electronic books more academically stimulating than traditional books? With Molly Collins of the Erikson Institute, we are finding out. In one study, children at two local children’s museums (Please Touch and Chicago Children’s Museum) are asked to choose one of the displayed books to read with a parent. Three toactions with parents are completely different with the two types of books. With traditional books parents ask more questions about the content of the book and are more engaged with the children. In contrast, e-books tend to stimulate more directives from parents (e.g., Do this.. push the button). Little in the e-book interaction reinforces the kinds of dialogic reading though to promote reading skill. In a second study, children came into the lab and were assigned either an e-book or a matching traditional book. Preliminary data suggest similar patters are emerging.
Hirsh-Pasek, K., Zosh, J., Golinkoff, R.M. Gray, J., Robb, M., and Kaufman, J. (2015) Putting education in educational apps: Lesson for the science of learning. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 16,1, 3-34.
Zosh, J., Filipowicz, A., Verdine, B., Golinkoff, R. M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2015). Parental language with electronic and traditional and shape sorters. Mind, Brain & Education, 9, 3,136-144 click here
Weisberg, D. S., Kittredge, A. K., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M., & Klahr, D. (2015). Guided play: Making play work for education. Phi Beta Kappan. 96, 8, 8-13. click here
Verdine, B.N., Lucca, K.R., Golinkoff, R. M., Newcombe, N.S., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2015) The shape of things: The origin of young children’s knowledge of the names and properties of geometric forms. Journal of Cognition and Development. 12, 315-331 click here
Zosh, J.M., Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. (2015). Guided play. In D. L. Couchenour & K. Chrisman (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Contemporary Early Childhood Education. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Reference
Weisberg, D.,S., Ilgaz, H., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R.M., Nicolopoulou, A. (2015) Shovels and swords: How realistic and fantastical themes affect children’s word learning. Cognitive Development. 35, 1-14.
Zosh, J., Reed, J., Golinkoff, R. M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2014). Play and its role in language development. In P. Brooks, V. Kempe, & G. J. Golson (Eds.) Encyclopedia of language development, (pp. 467-471). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage click here
Verdine, B., Irwin, C., Golinkoff, R. M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2014) Contributions of Executive Function and a New Test of Spatial-Geometric Skill to Preschool Mathematics Achievement. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 126, 37-51. click here
Verdine, B., Golinkoff, R.M., Hirsh-Pasek, K. & Newcombe, N. (2014) Finding the missing piece: Blocks, puzzles, and shapes fuel school readiness. Trends in Neuroscience and Education. 7-13 click here
Weisberg, D., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R.M., McCandliss, B. (2014) Mis en place: Setting the stage for thought and action. Trends in Cognition. 276-278. click here
Verdine, B., Golinkoff, R., Hirsh-Pasek, K, Newcombe, N., Filipowicz, A. & Chang, A. (2014) Deconstructing Building Blocks: Preschoolers’ Spatial Assembly Performance Relates to Early Mathematical Skills. Child Development.1062-1076. click here
Weisberg, D., Hirsh-Pasek. K. & Golinkoff, R.M. (2013) Guided play: Where curricular goals meet a playful pedagogy. Mind, Brain and Education ,7,2, 104-112
Golinkoff, R. M. Hirsh-Pasek, K., Russ, S. W., & Lillard, A. S. (2013). Guest editors’ foreword. Probing playtime: What does the research show? American Journal of Play, 6
Weisberg, D., Zosh, J., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R.M. (2013). “Talking it up:” Play, language development and the role of adult support. American Journal of Play. Special issue, 6, 39-54.
Lillard, A. S., Russ, S. W., Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2013). Guest editors’ afterword. Probing pretend play: The research we need. American Journal of Play, 6
Fisher, K., Hirsh-Pasek, K, Newcombe, N & Golinkoff, R.M. (2013) Taking shape: Supporting preschoolers’ acquisition of geometric knowledge. Child Development, 1872-1878. click here
Zosh, J.M., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R.M., Gray, J., Robb. M., &Kaufman, J. Harnessing the science of learning to promote real educational apps: A proposed contribution for Psychological Science in the Public Interest click here
Gardner, M., Golinkoff, R.M.,Hirsh-Pasek, K. & Heiney-Gonzalez, D. (2012) Marketing toys without playing around. Young Consumers, 13,4, 381-391 click here
Reed, J., Hirsh-Pasek. , K., & Golinkoff, R. (2012) Drawing on the arts: Less-traveled paths towards a science of learning?In A. Pinkham, T. Kaefer, & S. Neuman (eds) Knowledge Development in Early Childhood. How Young Children Build Knowledge and Why It Matters. Guildford, 71-90. click here
Reed, J., Hirsh-Pasek, K. & Golinkoff, R.M. (2012) A tale of two schools: The promise of playful learning. In B. Falk (Ed) In Defense of childhood. New York: Teacher’s College.. 24-48.
Ferrara, K., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Newcombe, N. & Golinkoff, R. (2011) Block talk: Spatial language during block play. Mind, Brain & Education, 5,3, 143-151. click here
Hirsh-Pasek, K.,& Golinkoff, R.M. (2011) The Ultimate Block Party: Putting our science in the hands of families. SRCD Developments Newsletter, 64,1, p. 5.
Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R.M. (in press) The great balancing act: Optimizing core curricula through playful learning. To appear in E. Zigler, S. Barnett, & W. Gilliam (Eds.) The preschool education debates. click here
Fisher, K., Hirsh-Pasek, K .,Golinkoff, R. M., Singer, D., & Berk, L. E. (2011). Playing around in school: Implications for learning and educational policy. In A. Pellegrini (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of play. NY: Oxford University Press, 341-363. click here
Golinkoff, R. M. & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (April, 2009). The bicultural scientist: traveling in the twin worlds of basic and translational science. American Psychological Science Observer. click here
Hirsh-Pasek, K. & Golinkoff, R. (2008). Brains in a box: Do new age toys deliver on the promise? Harwood, R. Child development in a changing society, 1st ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Press. click here
Fisher, K., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. & Glick, R. (2008) Conceptual split? Parents and experts’ perception of play in the 21st century. Applied Developmental Psychology. 29, 305-316. click here
Golinkoff, R. M., Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Singer, D. Play=Learning: A Challenge for Parents and Educators In: Singer, D., Golinkoff, R. M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (Eds.) (2006). Play=Learning: How play motivates and enhances children’s cognitive and social-emotional growth. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. click here
Hirsh-Pasek, K. & Golinkoff, R. M. (2006). How to choose toys for your baby. In Ettus, S. The Experts’ Guide to the Baby Years. Random House. click here