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Work is work and play is play, right? Actually, for most young children nothing could be further from the truth. By engaging in play, children can express themselves, develop new ideas, and test their abilities-while learning about the world and their place in it. Just like a carpenter or a doctor or an engineer, children have tools of the trade. The most important of which is their imagination.
Child development experts have long held that learning is intimately connected to the imagination. Children are constantly faced with unfamiliar situations that require creative and imaginative solutions. That's why playful learning is so important. Playful learning experiences motivate children to learn based on personal interests and allow them to bend reality so that taking the risks inherent in learning is actually fun and exciting.
Parents sometimes don't realize that their children are actually learning when they play. Experts in the field of child development such as Dorothy Singer, Senior Research Scientist in the department of psychology and child study center at Yale University, are disappointed to hear that many American parents still think that play and education are two vastly different things. "Parents have to understand that children learn from play," says Singer. "Early imaginative play leads to greater creativity in later life. The simple act of transforming an ordinary object like a couch into a haunted house is an important skill."
Singer, along with a group of other noted academics, including Mitchel Resnick, associate professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Edith Ackerman, PhD, developmental psychologist and visiting professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, want to educate parents on the benefits of playful learning. These highly regarded researchers have joined other global academics on the Playful Learning Panel of the recently formed LEGO Learning Institute (LLI), an organization dedicated to leading research and innovative thinking in the areas of play, learning, and creativity.
LLI believes that for creative learning to occur, children need a supportive environment. In short, parents who encourage them to play. Indeed, many of the world's most famous and prolific artists, inventors, and scientists were encouraged by their forward-thinking parents at a very early age to test the boundaries of their imagination. Frank Lloyd Wright, the father of modern architecture, said in his autobiography that he learned about forms and shapes from playing with building blocks as a child. George Bernard Shaw, the noted novelist and playwright, had a puppet theater in his childhood home.
LLI Panelist Mitchel Resnick believes children are born with a natural impulse to explore and experiment, and that society needs to help them develop it further. Some of the best learning, says Resnick, takes place in kindergartens. By using simple toys like blocks, finger paint, and sticks, youngsters build houses and create pictures, learning about numbers, shapes, and colors in the process.