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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Play is great, but kids need to work too

The University of Cambridge has appointed the world’s first Lego professor of play, writes Tom Bennett in The Guardian.  Young children learn to understand the world through play, writes Bennett, the father of a one-year-old explorer, but it takes work to get beyond the basics.

Lego has endowed a chair in “play” at Cambridge. This isn’t it.

“Take catching a ball,” Bennett writes. “In its first few comedic years, a child will learn to have a good idea of how far a ball can be thrown by hand and so on. Now underpinning all of that is Newtonian physics, ballistics and mathematics.”

But learning to catch won’t teach “the laws of motion or the algorithm that maps the arc of a parabola,” writes Bennett, who’s taught for 13 years and directs researchED.

Past the age of four, most learning requires “instruction, usually in the form of a teacher, expert in their knowledge and expert in imparting it,” he writes. Often, it requires “hard work.”

For older children, learning through play can be “disastrous,” argues Bennett, who spent two weeks of his youth building a mosque out of polystyrene.

How many weeks of children’s lives have been sacrificed on the altar of building a papier-mache volcano when they could have been just learning about volcanos? . . .  Learning through play becomes, without any effort, just play. . . . And when you try to teach children the same way infants learn, you suddenly find out why infants don’t write novels or fix engines.

The Lego grant that created the professor’s chair also funds a research center that aims to “ensure children are equipped with 21st-century skills like problem solving, team work and self-control,” writes Bennett.  “Those sound exactly like the kinds of skills people needed in… well, just about every century.”

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