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.
Previous research shows that children often explore toys in ways that help them figure out cause and effect relationships. However it is not always possible to figure out exactly how a toy works.
This study asks: Do children prefer playing with a toy for which they can gather evidence to figure out how it works, or a similar toy where the exact causes for effects cannot be figured out?
Children, aged 3-5 years, see that certain snap-together beads that are placed on a ‘machine’ make the machine light up and play music, while other beads do not have any effect on the machine. Next, we show children pairs of snap-together beads- some pairs can be pulled apart, and some pairs are glued together- and children are allowed to play with the beads on their own.
We predict that children in this study will play more with the bead pairs that can be pulled apart, anxious to figure out exactly which bead will make the machine work.
This would show that children are sensitive to the difference between informative evidence (provided by bead pairs that can be separated to determine which bead is the true cause) and uninformative evidence (provided by beads that are glued together).
This would also show that children prefer to play with toys that are informative, helping us better understand how children learn about the world through play.
Learn about other research related to Learning Through Play.
This research is conducted by the Early Childhood Cognition Lab at MIT