Parents Not Always Aware of the Importance of Guided Play

What’s New in Psychology?

Parents Not Always Aware of the Importance of Guided Play

Jim Windell


           Are today’s parents sufficiently aware of the importance of letting their children play?

           The answer to that question is undoubtedly yes.

            That was found in a study by researchers at Temple University College of Liberal Arts in Philadelphia.

            Led by Charlotte Wright, a senior research associate at Temple University, the team conducted a survey of the opinions of 1,172 American parents.

           Their results showed that today’s parents understand how important play is for children’s well-being. However, the results also showed that work needs to be done to educate parents about the value of playful learning (or “guided play”) for learning goals in reading and math.

           Child psychologists have long known that play is essential for children’s cognitive development because play boosts their social, physical, and emotional skills. But beginning in the 21st century, specialists repeatedly sounded the alarm that kids were playing less – and often with less quality play.

          The current research consensus is that guided play is more effective than free play for children to learn skills such as mathematics, language and literacy, and the spatial awareness necessary for STEM skills. Guided play, which is possible both in the home and in the classroom, differs from free play in being initiated by the adult, while letting the child drive her learning towards a specific goal. For example, learning in Montessori classrooms and children’s museums is always initiated by an adult who reflects on learning goals. But children themselves drive the exploration within such guided learning environments – giving them choice and voice.

          An example of guided play might be a parent help his child learn shapes or colors by using building blocks in specific shapes or colors. During guided play with blocks, the father will observe the child’s play and must ask open-ended questions to extend their learning. For instance, they could ask: What shape is that?” or “What color is that?” or “What do you think will happen if you put it at the top? During free play, a parent could observe the child’s activity and can ask questions, too. However, they may not interact with the child unless necessary; if the child asks a question or seems frustrated with the activity. In guided play, the adult becomes the support team – but not the director.

          Wright and her team concluded that “many U.S. parents hold perceptions that do not align completely with evidence-based research, such as attributing more learning value to free play compared to guided play.”

          The parents who were interviewed for the study were between ages 18 and 75, with children aged between two and 12. Parents were White (68.9%), Hispanic (14.4%), Black (10.3%), Asian (3.4%), mixed race (2.6%), or American Indian or Native Alaskan (0.4%). Household income ranged from less than $25,000 to more than $100,000. Their level of education ranged from lacking a high school diploma (4.4%) to having a postgraduate degree (11.9%)

          The results showed that parents tended to rate free play as best for learning, followed by guided play, games, and direct instruction, respectively. This held true, both when these types of education were explicitly named, or when they were only implied in given scenarios. The higher the parent’s level of education, and the higher their household income, the more they tended to rate free play as the most effective method for learning. Likewise, parents of girls were more likely to rate free play as most educational than parents of boys. In contrast, Black or Hispanic parents were more likely to rate direct instruction higher than forms of play.

          “Here we show that parents understand that play can be more powerful for learning than direct instruction,” says first author Charlotte Wright. “Until recently, people generally considered play to be the opposite of work and learning. What we see in our study is that this separation no longer exists in the eyes of parents: a positive development.”

          The team also learned that when parents were better informed about current theory on child cognitive development, they tended to value guided play more. It is important to note that the concept of different kinds of play, such as guided vs free play, was only recently introduced in research and may not yet be evident to the public. Guided play also requires that parents engage with their children during a play experience, which might lead them to undervalue guided play in favor of free play.

          “While free play is crucial for children's well-being,” Wright said, “recent research emphasizes that guided play is a more effective approach to support children’s learning in reading, STEM, and learning-to-learn skills like attention, memory, and flexible thinking.”

          To read the original article, find it with this reference:

Wright, C.A., Pasek, J., Lee, J.Y., Masters, A.S., Golinkoff, R.M., Thomsen, S. & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2023). U.S. parents' attitudes toward playful learning. Frontiers in Developmental Psychology,DOI: 10.3389/fdpys.2023.1267169




Share this post:

Comments on "Parents Not Always Aware of the Importance of Guided Play"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment