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How OH Kids Learn: 'Pass the Blocks,' say Child Care Experts

April 20, 2011

Columbus, OH - Two recent studies about how young children learn bolster the theory that non-directed play is more fun - and more educational.

The studies confirm that playing with objects such as blocks, which can be used in various ways, is better than playing with toys that have only one purpose.

The finding comes as no surprise to Kellie Hall, director of the Early Childhood Learning Center at Ohio Wesleyan University. She says children there engage in free-play activities - such as with blocks or a play kitchen - which help teach them important life skills.

"There's a lot of problem-solving, negotiation and turn-taking, a lot of rich language that happens with that type of play, so it's really beneficial for children."

Not "directing the action" when working with preschoolers provides them the best learning opportunities, Hall says.

"A lot of people believe that our job as educators or parents of young children is to provide them with open-ended materials and time to explore them. Through doing that, they'll learn what they need to know, basically on their own, through trial and exploration."

Many items on today's toy-store shelves are passive toys that require no manipulation by the child. Hall says such toys tend to limit a child's imagination and creativity.

"This idea that they're constantly having to be entertained instead of being able to entertain themselves, or have attention on something themselves, is really kind of harmful when they get into school. Those are the types of kids who think school is boring, because they have to be entertained all the time."

The studies, in the journal Cognition, are from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and and the University of California at Berkeley. They support the idea that teaching cognitive skills to children at very young ages is not necessarily the best way for them to learn - and that they'll learn more when they're allowed to use their imaginations.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH