You’ve heard of ‘learning-through-play’, but do you know how children actual learn as they play? Sure, if they play with a puzzle, they will learn some problem-solving skills. If they play with blocks, they will learn motor skills. However, there is an even simpler and more effective way to make any play time ‘learning-through-play’: agency.
What is ‘agency’?
By definition, ‘agency’ means the capacity of individuals to make choices and act independently. In the context of your child and playing, it is basically allowing your child to lead during play. Take an example of a child solving a puzzle.
- • No agency - the parent hands the pieces one by one to the child and tells him where to place each piece.
- • With agency - the parent serves as a guide. Through trial and error, the child tries to solve the puzzle. From time to time, the parent may provide suggestions like ‘why don’t you try turning that piece’.
Incorporate this concept into any play time
Try to go through this checklist the next time you play with your child.
- 1. Identify if the toy or activity is open-ended or goal-directed. Open-ended activities allow your child to explore freely with little intervention, while goal-directed activities may require more guidance.
- 2. Add to the play experience. For example, if your child is playing pretend with puppets, you can add on to what they are doing by introducing another puppet of your own.
- 3. Ease frustrations. If your child is struggling with something and is getting frustrated, provide enough guidance to allow them to overcome the obstacle.
- 4. Ask questions frequently. Open and close ended questions are great for letting your child establish a sense of independence. If you ask rather than tell, your child has a chance to respond independently.
Studies have shown that children who have more agency, whether that’s through being able to move freely or make choices during play, show improved cognitive function, social emotional skills, and more enthusiasm in playing and learning. Why not incorporate this into your child’s play right away?