Learning through play

Photo for Jacobs Foundation: Nadia Schaerli
Photo: Nadia Schärli

Young children are, by nature, eager to acquire knowledge and discover the world around them. In early childhood, learning involves everyday situations, people, and activities. It is fostered by positive, motivating experiences and opportunities for exploration. Essential in this context is the child’s secure attachment to reliable, available and trusted adults. This is where the programs from the Swiss non-profit organization a:primo come in.

Learning in the family

In early childhood, most education and socialization takes place within the family. It is there that children learn to deal with the challenges of everyday life, interact with others, and resolve conflicts. The atmosphere at home plays a key role in successful development, particularly for socially disadvantaged children.

But stressful situations make it much more difficult for parents to provide the kind of environment that promotes learning. Not every parent is aware that creating a stimulating environment doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.

The a:primo programs schritt:weise and ping:pong are designed to help children from socially disadvantaged families. These programs demonstrate to parents how important positive interactions are for their children’s overall development. Parents learn to pay attention to their children’s interests, listen to their questions, and provide stimulation, while also giving them room for their own experiences.

“The atmosphere at home plays a key role in successful development, particularly for socially disadvantaged children.”

By introducing parents to age-appropriate activities, they are shown how to play with their children. In addition, the importance of play for a child’s development is being underscored. Parents’ resources are mobilized, and interaction between parent and child is encouraged in a playful environment, so that the child is able to learn through experience. Group meetings strengthen communication among parents, encourage social integration, and provide opportunities for children to interact with their peers.

Learning from peers

Interaction with other children is another important element in a child’s learning. Children provide input to one another that stimulates development. Encountering and playing with peers challenges them to understand the ideas of others and to express and defend their own ideas. They learn to negotiate with their playmates, wait patiently, and coordinate their play. Play reinforces social skills.

Learning and playing are largely synonymous, since young children learn primarily through play. Play allows children to explore the world around them. They learn how they can have an impact on their environment, they practice physical movement, they learn to think logically, and they improve their social and communication skills:

  • Play promotes higher-level psychological functions, such as abstract thinking, memory, and creativity.
  • Play awakens positive feelings and opens up new perspectives.
  • Play facilitates social contacts, learning from others, and self-fulfillment.
  • Play means experimentation, and it paves the way for development.
  • Play promotes dexterity and gives children the self-confidence they need to conquer new challenges.

In short, the goal of the a:primo learning programs is to offer equal opportunities for children growing up in families in stressful circumstances, and to end the cycle of educational disadvantage. Learning through play in a secure and stimulating environment, whether within the family or with peers, allows children to start at a young age to develop their potential and launch a successful life. I can only encourage parents: Let children play and learn – within the family and with peers!