Ditch the Desk: Let Kids Learn Through Play

28 Days Ago 251
Ditch the Desk: Let Kids Learn Through Play

I was in the taxi as two women in front of me chatted about their children's schooling. Judging from their conversation, it seemed like their kids were in the age range of 5 to 10 years old. They mentioned how expensive school fees had become, but how the schools their kids attended were decent and the teachers good. However, they expressed concern that their children were no longer bringing home homework like they used to. The kids claimed they were spending more time playing and engaging in play like activities at school, which the parents suspected was due to teachers’ laziness. One of the parents decided she would speak to the principal soon, while the other promised to join her to ensure they weren’t simply wasting their money.  It is like these parents expected their children to learn all day long nonstop.

Their discussion brought back memories of when one of my dearest friends returned to Addis Ababa from living in Finland for years. She was absolutely fascinated by their education system and couldn't wait to share her experiences with me. At the time, I was working part-time as an English teacher in a primary school, and I was eager to find more effective teaching methods. Although that job was short lived. I soon discovered that Finland's education system consistently ranks among the top globally. Based on her insights and my own research, I learned that Finnish schools prioritize creating a student-centered environment that nurtures a passion for learning.

A key aspect of Finnish education is their play-based learning approach, which goes beyond early childhood education. This method emphasizes the importance of encouraging curiosity and exploration in young learners. By incorporating games, hands-on activities, and project-based learning, schools provide engaging experiences that enhance comprehension. Teachers in Finland serve as guides, helping students develop independent learning skills rather than just imparting knowledge.

Finnish schools take a holistic approach to education, prioritizing the overall well-being of students. They have shorter school days and ample recess periods, giving students time to rest, recharge, and pursue their interests outside of academics. This helps reduce stress and burnout, creating an environment that promotes effective learning during school hours. Additionally, minimal homework ensures that students have dedicated time for play, physical activity, and family life, which are all essential for healthy development. In Finnish education, there is a strong emphasis on intrinsic motivation. Students are encouraged to find meaning and enjoyment in the learning process itself, rather than relying solely on external rewards such as good grades.

This intrinsic motivation leads to a deeper understanding and a genuine desire to learn for the sake of knowledge, rather than just completing assignments. Finnish schools prioritize independent practice and exploration over formal homework, encouraging activities like reading for pleasure, pursuing hobbies, and engaging in self-directed projects, especially for preschoolers. These activities enhance learning without being mandatory or graded, fostering a sense of ownership and enjoyment in the learning process.

The teacher training system in Finland also plays a crucial role in prioritizing learning. Finnish teachers undergo rigorous training that focuses on pedagogy and child development, making them highly qualified professionals who can tailor their instruction to meet the specific needs of their students. This creates a more engaging and effective learning environment, reducing the need for additional work outside of school hours. I found their approach captivating and wished our country would consider adopting a similar model.  

The early years of childhood are crucial for development, with preschool playing a key role in shaping young minds and laying the foundation for future academic success, social-emotional well-being, and character development. While homework may seem beneficial for academic skills, research indicates it offers little advantage for preschoolers. Young children thrive through active exploration and social interaction, making formal assignments at this age potentially stressful and counterproductive. Focusing on homework overlooks the essential developmental needs of preschoolers.

Children's natural curiosity is sparked through play, allowing them to delve into their interests freely and deeply, fostering a genuine thirst for knowledge. Activities like building forts, engaging in pretend play, and experimenting with toys serve as valuable opportunities for children to explore, theorize, and apply their understanding of the world around them. On the other hand, homework, often monotonous and detached from their passions, can create a negative perception of learning. Moreover, play instills a passion for learning that transcends the confines of the classroom. When children are actively involved in play, they are driven by intrinsic motivation, finding joy in the process of discovery itself. This internal drive is essential for continuous learning.

Research indicates that children exposed to play-based learning in their formative years are more inclined to become independent learners who are inquisitive and enthusiastic about overcoming challenges. While homework is often seen as a way to reinforce factual knowledge, play can also achieve this goal effectively. Moreover, play plays a significant role in fostering social and emotional skills in children. Interacting with peers during play helps children learn important skills such as negotiation, conflict resolution, and empathy, which are essential for their overall development. These skills are sometimes overlooked in traditional homework assignments, making play an important complement to academic learning.

Homework can still play a role in education, especially as students progress to higher grades and need more independent practice. However, it is important to shift the focus towards assignments that are meaningful and build upon what is taught in the classroom, encouraging students to apply their knowledge in creative ways.  I wanted to tell the parents to relax and that their children were actually learning through playing but they got off before I had the chance to articulate my thoughts. All in all, prioritizing play-based learning offers numerous benefits for children. It fosters intrinsic motivation, helps develop critical skills, and instills a love for learning that goes beyond the confines of the classroom. Through play, children can explore their world, experiment with ideas, and establish a strong foundation for lifelong success.  


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