The Absorbent Mind, p. 4.
In her recent webinar, “The Power of Playful Learning: How guided play sparks social and academic outcomes,” Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek stated that, according to her research, “…adult directed play was better than free play when there is a learning goal.” (Hirsh-Pasek, 2014)
Why the Montessori Environment uses Guided Play to Foster Learning
In the Montessori environment, there are specific learning goals assigned to each area of the classroom as well as to each material. If we look at the Pink Tower, we see that it looks like a set of basic stacking blocks. And if we were to allow the children to freely play with them, they would learn to build a tower, knock it over, and start again. But through guided play, the adult chooses how the interaction will occur. Yes, we stack them, but as we do so we deliberately compare each block to the others, strengthening our perception of size and order. Through the Montessori three-period lesson, we teach vocabulary associated with the material: larger, larger, largest; small, smaller, smallest. We use words of proximity: on top of; beside; next to; below; adjacent. Through guided play, we are teaching both spatial and mathematical concepts and building the foundation for future learning.
|Montessori Area||Learning Goal|
|Practical Life||Independence; body control; coordination of movement; concentration; sense of order; healthy work habits; character development; grace and courtesy|
|Sensorial||Refinement of senses – size, dimension, form, color, texture, temperature, weight, sound, taste, scent; constructing relationships based on sensory information and perception; gross and find motor development; language skills; visual and auditory discrimination; developing hand-eye coordination; increasing attention span;|
|Culture and Science||Find patterns in nature; understanding the truth in the natural world; learning their place in human culture; gaining appreciating for all living things|
|Math||Counting; sorting; patterning; matching; basic operations|
|Language||Vocabulary development; classification; writing; reading; oral language skills; grammar|
Hirsh-Pasek used preschool geometry to research the importance guided play had on future STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills. Using materials similar to Montessori’s Constructive Triangles and Geometric Cabinet, her study used three conditions:
Guided playChildren were taught rule-based classification for shapes in a playful, exploratory manner. (They were the “detectives” discovering the secret of the shapes.)
Direct instructionChildren were taught rule-based classification for shapes in a passive learning manner. (They watched while the experimenter acted as a detective discovering the secret of the shapes).
Exploratory, free playChildren played with shape cut-outs and wax stick for approximately the same time as the above training conditions. (Hirsh-Pasek, 2014)
The results proved overwhelmingly that children who discover and explore through guided play achieved a higher rate of success and learned skills needed far beyond their preschool years.
When we consider the needs of children, we can see that neither free play, which has no adult intervention, nor direct instruction, which does not allow for child exploration, serve educational requirements. And whether we, as Montessorians, call it work or play, the answer as Lillard concludes, is this: “The hands-on, child-driven educational methods sometimes referred to as ‘playful learning’ are the most positive means yet known to help young children’s development.” (Lillard, et al., 2012)
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Monday, February 23, 2015.