Toys and games theory to improve learning

New research shows parents can help improve their children’s literacy and numeracy skills by having a greater influence on the type of games they play in their free time, according to Macquarie University.

The study shows the type of toys or activities adults present to children can influence what they want to learn about and children are influenced by what adults are doing in the background while we think they’re not watching. 

Researchers exposed four-year-olds to demonstrations of literacy and numeracy in everyday life, while a control group had the same materials to play with but no demonstations. While children were doing other things, parents and educators did activities linked to literacy and numeracy in the background. After four weeks, the children began to play more with literacy and numeracy concepts and reading abilities improved.

Lead researcher Dr Yeshe Colliver, lecturer at the university’s Institute of Early Childhood, said the study aimed to reverse traditional thinking that the best way for children to learn is to link education to their existing interests.

“We know early learning is centred around the child’s interests - that is, for children to learn things, they have to be interested in them. Playing is a key way for children to begin learning, but it’s hard to see what benefit playing with Spiderman or Barbie can bring. Even more difficult is creating a link between a super hero and, say, maths.  

“So rather than looking at how adults can ‘follow the child’s interests’ and link them to learning, we wanted to know ‘What if adults could change what children are interested in?’”

The basis of the study comes from the idea that children want to learn the skills they see as important in society and that if they observed problem-solving literacy and numeracy activities among adults would come to value those skills and want to play and therefore learn about them.

“Our findings indicate the common view that parents and educators have little influence on what kids are interested in is untrue. So as Christmas approaches, educational toys - such as chalkboards, coloured blocks for patterning or tool sets - may be a good option after all, if adults also use similar tools in everyday life.”