The Positive Effects of Play on Academic Performance

You might have heard of schools offering play-based learning in their early childhood program and wondered what it is all about. For schools like the Global Indian International School in Singapore, part of their holistic education curriculum for early childhood is to make learning a joyful experience. Developing the physicality and the mental aptitudes of their students is the top priority, but a holistic approach means there should be no burden of learning.

But while child psychologists and schools have reiterated the importance of play in the learning experience, there are guardians who feel that it may not affect their development at all. So here we explore the many cognitive benefits of play.

Students pay more attention in class

According to a study done by Pellegrini and Holmes (2006) titled The Role of Recess in Primary School, schools that give recess or unsupervised free play to kids have students that pay more attention in class. Evidence can be found in a study made in 1990 by Stevenson and Lee who observed Chinese and Japanese students in schools that provide breaks every 50 minutes.

There is no definite time limit for free play time, but there are studies that have shown that breaks between 10 to 30 minutes are effective. In fact, in another study made by Pellegrini and Holmes, they saw that 4 to 5 year old students paid close attention in class after a 30 minute break. More than that may have the opposite effect.

Physical education classes are not counted as a short break time because these are still organized and supervised. While the exercise provided by physical education classes are essential to their wellbeing, it does not affect their attentiveness in class like recess does.

Development of language and effective communication

Various dramatic and symbolic plays were observed to have helped students develop their language and communication skills.

After analyzing 46 published reviews, Psychologist Edward Fisher (1999) found that kids who play pretend, or what is called sociodramatic play, performed better in “cognitive-linguistic and social affective domains.” Additionally, Lewis, Boucher, Lupton, and Watson (2000), in a study titled Relationships between symbolic play, functional play, verbal and non-verbal ability in young children, they observed kids’ test performance after symbolic play. They found that kids who took part in symbolic play performed better in expressive language and receptive language tests.

Creative problem solving

There are two types of problems: convergent problems, which are those that have only one solution; and then divergent problems, which are those that have multiple solutions.

There are researches which says play can improve a child’s divergent problem solving. In a study by Pepler and Ross (1981) titled: The effects of play on convergent and divergent problem solving found that children who took part in blocks to play with (divergent play) found various ways to attack the same divergent problem.

In another study by Wyver and Spencer (1999) titled Play and divergent problem solving: Evidence supporting a reciprocal relationship, they found that kids who pretend play have an increased ability to solve divergent problems. They also found that kids who are good at divergent solving pretend play more often than others.

What this tells us is giving kids short breaks in between long periods in class, and turning class lessons into playful sessions is not impeding their academic growth. It only lessens the stress and burden of having to learning their material; plus, it will encourage them to love learning, a trait that is imperative as they level up in school.

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