The Buzz Early Language & Literacy Series | Fifth Edition
Children Learn Best in Meaningful Contexts

We hope that you have begun 2019 by playing and laughing with your children! If you have, we know that you already have a head start in understanding Kathy Hirsh-Pasek’s Learning Principle #4: Children Learn Best in Meaningful Contexts. In other words, children learn best when they are playing in natural environments, whether at home, at school, or at the neighborhood playground. 

Studies have shown that children learn richer vocabulary in playful learning than they do in direct instruction methods that are not meaningful. An example of playful learning would be interacting with a child while he is eating his favorite snack or playing "baker" in the kitchen area as your child pretends to bake a birthday cake. An example of direct instruction would be using flashcards to learn letters or sight words or completing an activity sheet that the teacher or parent has chosen to do. 

Two studies determined that four year olds learned shapes, colors, and spatial terms much better by playing with blocks than by other direct instruction methods (Fisher, Hirsh-Pasek, Newcomb and Golinkoff, 2011, 2013). Telling a child to "put the yellow block under the green block” or “put the triangle next to the circle” is more meaningful if you are saying it while sitting on the floor playing with the blocks together. Try adding a little more fun by turning the directions into a song or rhyme. Sue Palmer, writer and broadcaster says, “What adults can add to that [playful learning] are the things that human brains crave in the early years: songs, music, stories…lots of them.” 

For more information from experts on the importance of play in language development, please watch the video below.
For tips on building language through play, watch the first 1:42 minutes of this video produced by the Children's Respite Care Center:
To see some wonderful examples of using nature and science vocabulary within natural, playful environments, please view the video through 12:03 minutes. This video is part of a project supported by the North Carolina Division of Child Development.
Happy New Year!

Coming up in February and March
  • Children need to hear diverse examples of words and language structures
  • Vocabulary and grammatical development are reciprocal processes

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