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7 November 2019
By Partnership & Integration Team

Learning through life

The debate over using bright colours and plastic toys versus a more neutral, natural approach is a hot topic. Wooden and natural resources encourage creativity and imagination in young children. Plastic toys can often only be used for their purpose and can restrict children’s thinking skills.

Imagine that you are working with a child that has no previous experience of an orange. They have never experienced one.

If you give them a picture of an orange, what will they learn from that picture? It’s orange and it’s round. The learning is restricted to what they see.

Now give that child a plastic toy orange. What else will they learn now? That it has small dimples on the skin, they can hold it and explore its size and weight.

Now give a child a real orange and see how the learning is extended. They will learn that they can squeeze the orange and experience how that feels. They can dig their nails in the skin and find white underneath. They can open the orange, where they will discover that the inside has segments, that it is wet, it is sticky, and it tastes sweet. They can smell its fragrance. By giving children a real orange over a picture or pretend one, children have gone from using just their sense of sight to using all of their senses to find out about that one item. Therefore, the learning opportunities are far greater.

So why are real life experiences invaluable to children’s learning? They:

  • increase motivation – isn’t it more interesting to investigate a real item rather than just looking at a picture?
  • improve behaviour – the more your children are engaged and their wellbeing high, the better their behaviour is likely to be
  • develop communication and language – experiences give children something to think and talk about. Ensure you use a rich vocabulary to talk about the different things the children are experiencing
  • develop understanding of the world – this is an area of development that depends on children experimenting and exploring
  • develop other areas – by helping to develop language you will be supporting other areas of learning. For example, to progress in mathematical development: shape, space and measure, children need to be able to compare size, weight and length and talk about it. This is going to stem from children having had an experience to talk about.

So how do you offer these opportunities?

  • Provide opportunities for children to experience real items, not just pictures or models. Put real food in the role-play area, and on occasion give them a few real coins to play with so that they know what these feel like, rather than plastic money
  • Provide open-ended resources. Open-ended play allows children to take resources that have boundless uses and manipulate them into their play in their own manner
  • Offer loose part play: loose parts can be collected, sorted, moved around, manipulated, adapted, controlled, combined with other materials, piled up, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. They are open-ended items that can be used alone or combined with other materials. They allow children to use them with no instructions or directions
  • Take children outside – let them feel real grass underneath their feet and throw the leaves into the air. Let them experience a wet and windy day, just put your coats and wellies on and go outside and have fun. The learning opportunities will be huge.

So, next time you plan an activity make it as real as you can. Let them learn through life. The children will gain so much more from it. They will develop language, communication skills, problem-solving, independent thinking and lifelong learning skills. But the best bit is… they are going to absolutely love it!