It’s not often I jump on the political bandwagon – not least because I can’t seem to find the energy to keep on top of what’s current. But just occasionally something really grabs my interest. And so it was recently, when someone sent me this article from the Guardian , all about the work of the Lego Foundation. It resonated with one of my key interests – learning through play.
Unless you are voucher-savvy (and I’m not) then it costs a fair bit to get into Lego Land. But I was surprised to read that a quarter of all of Lego’s post-tax profits are gifted to the Lego Foundation. Who? I hear you ask. Well, the Lego Foundation is an organisation which is currently campaigning for a change in the approach to education around the world.
My thoughts on reading this? Hallelujah! Someone with a bit of clout is willing to tackle the government in its ceaseless march towards longer school days and a tougher curriculum. For the few years I’ve been experiencing primary education first hand, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard that targets are getting tougher. Children need to learn more at every given stage of their school careers. We all know the line about how Europeans start school later and perform better…but the government seems determined to press on.
So what is the Lego foundation’s argument (and bear in mind it is drawing on research from independent and esteemed universities, not from within the Lego organisation).
Learning through Play
Simply put, it says children learn best through play, and continue to do so up to the age of 8. It talks about the many and varied opportunities to learn in this way. It also references the negative risks of children being put off learning by adopting a formal approach to education too young.
I am a firm believer in this – I’m not saying that there’s no place for sitting down and learning, or that life should be one long party. But I do think the pressure we are placing on very young children is too much, and I am unconvinced of the rewards. However, I am confident that there is great value in learning through play. I may not be an expert, but a simple review of our own Gotrovo treasure hunt game can aptly demonstrate the point.
Let’s break it down and explore the opportunities in a simple treasure hunt game. There are lots, so I’m going to be brief on each one…
1. Developing team work and social skills
Gotrovo doesn’t have to be a team game, but there’s ample scope to use it this way, with children working together, taking defined roles and taking turns (map reader, coin counter, clue finder, clue reader). Working together to get to the end of a hunt, or even to race another team to the treasure, provides lots of opportunities for co-ordination, negotiation, debate, supporting and leading roles – all skills we need in life. Granted, they may be soft skills, but I believe they are ones the politicians value! (And, joking aside, they are invaluable in working life.)
2. Learning to count: Number recognition and simple counting
Whatever your age, there is something for you in Gotrovo. The very littlest may simply enjoy trailing behind older siblings, feeling included and having the opportunity to mimic and learn by copying. But as they reach pre-school age, it is simple to work on number recognition, number sequences (1-10) and counting using the maps and coins. Hey presto…the basic foundations of maths.
3. Learning directional language
I remember an exceptional teacher friend remarking to me as we played Gotrovo, that she had year 1 & 2 children who struggled with basic directional language: behind, above, next to, nearby, underneath and so forth. What simpler way to master this than through a treasure hunt game? And once they get older, ask them if the map is taking them north or east, how many steps they’ve got left to find the treasure, if they are nearer the start or end of the trail…there’s loads of scope to broaden their thinking.
4. Following instructions, learning to multi-task, and building an awareness of surroundings
As part of following instructions, children broaden their thinking, slow their pace and consider what they’ve been asked to do. Remembering more than one part to an activity or instruction is a great developmental opportunity. It’s a pretty key skill for exam success in later life too. If little ones can be helped to think that way then there has to be great benefit.
5. Developing reading and rhyming skills
Gotrovo (or any treasure hunt) gives ample opportunity to practice reading skills, from single word recognition supported by the picture on the reverse of the card, to reading simple or complex riddles. And since all the riddles rhyme, they learn the basics of this too.
6. Developing a child’s vocabulary: Toddlers, special needs, and ESL (English as a Second Language)
A treasure hunt can be a really clever tool for developing and expanding vocabulary. Gotrovo is used in exactly this way by some speech therapists. They use the clue cards to stimulate and expand a childs word count and speech. Indeed progress can be tracked by how many different items they can name or articulate from the cards. This applies to any child learning a first or second language at any stage.
7. Developing lateral thinking skills
A treasure hunt can be as simple or as difficult as you want it to be. Even a straight forward picture trail involves problem solving. We probably all only have one fruit bowl or sandpit at home, but how many beds, doors, windows or shoes might there be to choose from? What happens if the card isn’t on the door you think its on? For an item like a chair there could be lots of possibilities to consider. Could it be a desk chair, a kitchen chair, an arm chair, even a dolls chair? Children need to work to find a solution. A door could be to a room, or to a kitchen cupboard. Make them think laterally! As they get older, lateral thinking is key when children lay a trail for younger ones. It’s a skill and a process, and they can learn while having fun.
8. Writing riddles – learning the properties of an item
Making up their own riddles and clues is another great learning opportunity for children. And they simply love seeing their work included in a hunt. They can practice rhyming and rhythm in writing clues. But in order to write a riddle describing an item, they need to examine the properties and benefits of that item, and consider what distinguishes it from something else. What makes a chair different from a sofa, for example? Check out this great riddle by a 7 year-old. Can you guess what it is? (In case you can’t read it, it says; “I’m warm and soft, comfy and relaxing, if you’re tired and weak, come and have a sleep”.)
9. Developing motor skills
The simple actions of collecting gold coins in a bag, or sticking cards to the map, develops gross motor skills. Occasionally we get feedback that it’s tricky for little ones to get the cards to stick on the map. We know – it’s meant to be!
10. Learning and building confidence through role play
One of the things that differentiates Gotrovo is the added role-play element to the game. Role-play doesn’t have to be playing mums and dads, or finger puppets. Dress them in pirate costumes and set off to explore the sights and sounds of an imagined world. It’s wonderful for building social skills, confidence, and imagination. Go on – release your inner child! It’s loads of fun once you get into it.
That’s 10 points, and there I’m going to leave it. I may not have the research credentials of the Lego foundation, but anyone can see the learning opportunities in play. Whatever the activity, children are developing their senses, awareness, volcabulary, motor skills, comprehension and more. That’s got to be better as a long-term building block than rote learning.
So I’m all for the Lego Foundation’s call to change the way we think about our approach to education. I’ve even created a new hashtag! #FunCanBeLearning
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