It is widely believed that children learn by playing, but if you observe children’s play activities, you may notice that the process of ‘playing’ is inherently unsystematic. This contradiction has made the question of how children learn during play of particular interest to parents, teachers and researchers. To find out what play is all about, cognitive scientists have developed and are testing theories about how children might learn through play.
Children are able to learn a lot about the world from very little information. This study examines whether the exploratory behavior of children, ages 3-5, is affected by subtle language cues.
In this study, an experimenter shows children a toy with various discoverable “properties” and presents a nonsense verb (such as “glin”) describing something the toy can do. The verb provides the child with a subtle cue about an obvious property of the toy. For example, words that begin with “gl-“ often are related to properties of light (i.e. glow, gleam, glisten, glitter…).
The study asks: will children play with this toy in different ways, perhaps searching for specific types of outcomes (e.g. a light), depending on how the toy is initially described to them?
Once the experimenter introduces the toy and the nonsense verb, the child is given a chance to play with the toy on his own. When the experimenter returns, she asks the child to demonstrate how the toy works.
We are interested in understanding how children use subtle verbal information to explore the toys’ properties. We are looking to see whether children will predictably label the named property by using knowledge of words that they are familiar with. Additionally, we would like to know whether children will explore the toy differently depending on how they match the verb to a property.
Learn about other research related to Learning Through Play.
This research is conducted by the Early Childhood Cognition Lab at MIT