Action Learning

Despite falling SAT scores and employers reporting that high-school grads can't run the cash register, researchers, educators, and parents each have some pieces of the puzzle of how children learn best. But somehow, all these experts don’t always share what they know.

Consider the power of playful learning. While research shows that unstructured play promotes attention and critical thinking skills and exercise can reduce stress and help prevent obesity, some schools are dropping recess and cutting back on playtime. At home, some parents equate playtime with wasted time, even though imaginative play, like planning and holding a pretend tea party, helps children practice social conversation and completing tasks in order.

How do we change their minds? That's the task the Learning Resources Network, or L_rn, has taken on. Its first big project was the highly successful Ultimate Block Party in New York's Central Park last fall; event planners expected a few thousand families and instead drew more than 50,000. Even The New York Times took notice, albeit a few months later. Local leaders repeated its success recently in Toronto, and on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 2, Baltimore Public Schools will host the third party, on Rash field in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

“We want to share the science," said Roberta Michnick Golinkoff of the University of Delaware during a forum on the project on Wednesday. "We know how kids learn best; it’s out there, it’s not a secret anymore.”

This four-minute video from last year tells their story, from problems to solutions:

"We want to show the science of learning through play," said L-rn's Publisher Susan Magsamen of Johns Hopkins University during a forum on Wednesday. The Ultimate Block Party is an application of these principles in the real world, and next month the group will launch an application in the virtual world, the Web portal l-rn.com.

Even though I'm not a kid anymore, I'm planning to go to the party in Baltimore. Learning is lifelong, after all. And, as I wrote for the Baltimore magazine Urbanite back in 2006, many of us, of all ages, could use more play in our lives.

— Nicky Penttila

One response

  1. Here, here! Crawling, running, jumping, riding a big wheel — all promote large muscle growth and coordination. Coloring, painting, building with blocks, playing with a puzzle — refine muscles further until fine motor coordination allows a child’s eye muscles to sweep a page. And when that happens you’re ready to read. Free play with lots of time for pretend and imagination is actually teaching our children to read. Pair that with reading a story to your child every day and you’ve given your child the tools (s)he needs to blossom.

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