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A Researcher's Perspective on the Value of Play

Dr Alison Gopnik, a leader in the study of how children learn, discussed with NAEYC her findings about how young children learn best. Read her take on the value of play and developing social and emotional skills in the full article.

A Conversation with Dr. Alison Gopnik


Now that we are well underway in the new school year and the children have had a chance to settle into new routines, Country Day is busy with hands-on learning and exploration. Our teachers scaffold and guide learning in ways that connect with young children's natural interest in the world around them, for example extending a class interest in fall leaves and apples to include leaf rubbings, sorting apples and leaves by color and size, printing using apples as stamps, tasting and cooking apples, adopting a tree to observe throughout the year, building "Leaf Man" figures after reading a story, and much more. As these units of study shift throughout the school year, every classroom and age level is consistently focused on learning about the natural and social world. Allowing for open ended and imaginative play, using puppets and social stories, practicing cooperation and turn taking are a hallmark of our play-based program. More and more research in the field of child development points to the important role social and emotional development and allowing children to naturally learn through play. Dr. Alison Gopnik is a leading researcher on how children learn. In discussion with NAEYC, she touches on the importance of play in young children's development.

She explains: "I hear more and more from teachers that parents are in a state of panic over academic preparedness. It's hard for both parents and teachers to resist this pressure, which is coming from everywhere. What teachers can say to parents, though, is: "Play is not just some touchy-feely activity. And it's not just that you want to leave children alone and not rush them. There's hard evidence that children learn more things through play than they would in some academic setting." Children are eventually going to learn to recognize letters. But learning how people work and what's in others' minds is a much deeper and more profound learning."

A Conversation with Dr. Alison Gopnik