Children’s Descriptions of Playing and Learning as Related Processes

Many studies have examined children’s understanding of playing and learning as separate concepts, but the ways that children relate playing and learning to one another remain relatively unexplored. The current study asked 5- to 8-year-olds (N = 92) to define playing and learning, and examined whether children defined them as abstract processes or merely as labels for particular types of activities. We also asked children to state whether playing and learning can occur simultaneously, and examined whether they could give examples of playing and learning with attributes either congruent or incongruent with those activities. Older children were more likely to define both playing and learning in terms of abstract processes, rather than by describing particular topics or activities. Children who defined both playing and learning in this way were able to generate more examples of situations where they were simultaneously playing and learning, and were better able to generate examples of learning with characteristics of play, and examples of playing with characteristics of learning. These data suggest that children develop an understanding that learning and playing can coincide. These results are critical to researchers and educators who seek to integrate play and learning, as children’s beliefs about these concepts can influence how they reflect on playful learning opportunities.

Many studies have examined children’s understanding of playing and learning as separate concepts, but the ways that children relate playing and learning to one another remain relatively unexplored. The current study asked 5- to 8-year-olds (N = 92) to define playing and learning, and examined whether children defined them as abstract processes or merely as labels for particular types of activities. We also asked children to state whether playing and learning can occur simultaneously, and examined whether they could give examples of playing and learning with attributes either congruent or incongruent with those activities. Older children were more likely to define both playing and learning in terms of abstract processes, rather than by describing particular topics or activities. Children who defined both playing and learning in this way were able to generate more examples of situations where they were simultaneously playing and learning, and were better able to generate examples of learning with characteristics of play, and examples of playing with characteristics of learning. These data suggest that children develop an understanding that learning and playing can coincide. These results are critical to researchers and educators who seek to integrate play and learning, as children’s beliefs about these concepts can influence how they reflect on playful learning opportunities.

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