Play = Learning

Play = Learning: How Play Motivates and Enhances Children’s Cognitive and Social-Emotional Growth

Play = Learning: How Play Motivates and Enhances Children’s Cognitive and Social-Emotional Growth was edited by Dorothy G. Singer, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek. Published by Oxford University Press in 2006, this book is a compilation of materials submitted by numerous authors for the conference entitled Play = Learning held in June of 2005 at Yale University.

Chapter 1 – Why Play = Learning: A Challenge for Parents and Educators serves as an introduction by the editors for the book’s content. The chapter intertwines the subject matter contained in the chapters that follow to show the value of play to promote children’s learning.

The book is divided into four parts. Part I – Challenges to Play (Chapters 2 and 3); Part II – School Readiness – School Standards (Chapters 4 through 8); Part III – Media and Computers (Chapters 9 and 10); and Part IV – Play With Dysfunctional Children (Chapters 11 through 13).

Chapter 2 – The Cognitive Child Versus the Whole Child: Lessons From 40 Years of Head Start was written by Edward F. Zigler and Sandra J. Bishop-Josef. The whole child approach of Head Start in its inception in 1965 included “components to support physical and mental health, nutrition, social and emotional development, early education and cognitive development, social services for children’s families, and community and parental involvement.”1 The chapter gives the historical influences of the Soviets’ beating the United States into space, IQ testing, and the No Child Left Behind  Act that moved public thought to emphasize cognitive training over the whole child approach.

Chapter 3 – The Role of Recess in Primary School was written by Anthony D. Pellegrini and Robyn M. Holmes. The authors describe the failures of the popular opinion that increased classroom time with the minimized or eliminated recess time improves academic performance. They cite studies that indicate the importance of peer interaction during recess for predicting first-grade achievement as well as for adjusting to school. They also examine the data that suggests recess has an immediate impact on children’s cognitive performance.

Chapter 4 – Standards, Science, and the Role of Play in Early Literacy Education was written by James F. Christie and Kathleen A. Roskos. With the increased emphasis on early literacy expectations for young children, in this chapter the authors discuss how play can further early literacy instruction for children. They propose a more vigorous advocacy for educational play in early childhood programs.

Chapter 5 – Make-Believe Play: Wellspring for Development of Self-Regulation was written by Laura E. Berk, Trisha D. Mann, and Amy T. Ogan. Self-regulation is defined as “an array of complex mental capacities that includes impulse and emotion control, self-guidance of thought and behavior, planning, self-reliance, and socially responsible behavior.”2 Citing the work of Lev Vygotsky who viewed social experiences and make-believe play as key to childhood development, the authors propose that make-believe play has a crucial role in developing self-regulation in children.

Chapter 6 – My Magic Story Car: Video-Based Play Intervention to Strengthen Emergent Literacy of At-Risk Preschoolers was written by Harvey F. Bellin and Dorothy G. Singer. The authors examine the My Magic Story Car video-based program that engages 4- and 5-year-olds from low-income families in make-believe games to strengthen their emergent literacy skills.

Chapter 7 – Narrative Play and Emergent Literacy: Storytelling and Story-Acting Meet Journal Writing was written by Ageliki Nicolopoulou, Judith McDowell, and Carolyn Brockmeyer. Advocating integrating a teacher-directed style that offers skill-oriented activities with a child-centered approach with play-oriented activities is proposed by the authors to result in an effective program for emergent literacy. Storytelling and story-acting practice leads to the literacy-oriented activity of journal writing, which is studied by these authors.

Chapter 8 – Mathematical Play and Playful Mathematics: A Guide for Early Education was written by Herbert P. Ginsburg. The authors explore mathematical play that involves everyday mathematics, the informal skills and ideas relating to number, shape, and pattern young children acquire through their play. When appropriately applied, using play in early childhood mathematics education can enhance the natural capacity children have to learn mathematical concepts.

Chapter 9 – Media Use by Infants and Toddlers: A Potential for Play was written by Deborah S. Weber. The author examines existing research on infant and toddler TV and video viewing as it relates to play. With no intention to increase the amount of time infants and toddlers view television or suggest that this programming should take the place of play, the author does offer techniques that could help caregivers and young children get the most out of their media-viewing experiences.

Chapter 10 – Computer as Paintbrush: Technology, Play, and the Creative Society was written by Mitchel Resnick. The author proposes that many of children’s best learning experiences come when they are engaged in designing, creating, and inventing with materials, not simply interacting with them, and he gives examples of how new technologies can support playful learning and foster creative thinking and creative expression.

Chapter 11 – Pretend Play and Emotion Learning in Traumatized Mothers and Children was written by Wendy Haight, James Black, Teresa Ostler, and Kathryn Sheridan. This chapter presents data suggesting that parent-child pretend play is an underdeveloped resource for professionals helping children interpret and recover from traumatic experiences. Varying examples of pretend play between a parent and child are explored.

Chapter 12 – Play and Autism: Facilitating Symbolic Understanding was written by Melissa Allen Preissler. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have impairments in social, behavioral, and communicative domains. Because symbolic play maintains a crucial role in the development of abstract thought which enables social understanding and communication, the author suggests children with ASD are best treated with an intense program of intervention that includes play therapy to help them develop their symbolic understanding.

Chapter 13 – Epilogue: Learning to Play and Learning Through Play was written by Jerome L. Singer as a summary of the preceding chapters, and he expands on the role of play in child development and the value of play as a means for effective learning. The author stresses the importance of adult intervention to enhance children’s play skills.

  • 1. Singer, Dorothy G., Robert Michnick Golinkoff, and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, editors. Play = Learning: How Play Motivates and Enhances Children’s Cognitive and Social-Emotional Growth. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2006. p. 19.
  • 2. Ibid. p. 74.