Nancy Carlsson-Paige is a mother of two sons, the author of Taking Back Childhood, and an expert in early childhood development (Strauss, 2020). The woman argues that the modern educational system puts the burden on the children, overloading them with worksheets, tests, scores, etc. (Strauss, 2020). It steals childhood from the young learners, particularly those belonging to vulnerable groups, e.g., low-income population or ethnic minorities (Strauss, 2020). Indeed, the rapid development of technology and the drastic changes it causes in diverse spheres require young students to keep up with the pace. Therefore, the 21st-century preschoolers seem more socially and academically developed than their peers in the past who had more freedom and enjoyed childhood. However, such pressure may harm the children’s mental and physical health, as well as well-being. Bassok et al. (2016) found that 65% of teachers believed children should learn literacy in kindergarten, compared to 31% in 1998. It means that the requirements for young learners for their knowledge and skill become stricter, replacing the typical activities for their age. Play may be underestimated by most educators, wrongly assuming that traditional strategies are more effective. It allows children to develop naturally in a safe environment and does not accelerate their development. This paper explores the impact of play-based learning on children’s development with lower social and academic skills. The study will prove that teachers should incorporate play in children’s learning, allowing them to interact with peers or adults and gain knowledge in a safe and natural environment, regardless of problems with socialization and academic performance.
Play and Social Skills
First, most scholars agree that learning through play is essential to enforce socialization and acquire various behavior models in diverse situations (Tahmores, 2011; Ali et al., 2018; Rauf & Bakar, 2019). According to Tahmores (2011), play is a meaningful activity that can address flaws in social skills, showing young learners’ how to communicate with other human beings. The scholar conducted a study, recruiting 720 participants aged 3-5 years, 6-7 years, and 8-12 years, hypothesizing that play-based learning will affect the three groups positively (Tahmores, 2011). The research revealed that children engaged in play, particularly in therapeutic play, experienced higher social and mental development (Tahmores, 2011). The evidence suggests that learning while playing may be valuable for students of different ages, not only for kindergarten children or preschoolers.
Ali et al. (2018) agree with the previous study, affirming the role of games for socialization and emphasizing the value of continuous learning. The authors explain that play-based learning should not be limited to a certain age, stating that games should be applied, at least from birth to elementary school (Ali et al., 2018). Their research shows that learning through playing may be valuable for those experiencing difficulties while studying. Thus, children for whom English is the second language, for instance, may face numerous challenges with their academic skills, and play may help them learn the language and enhance their communication with peers (Ali et al., 2018). The teachers create a safe and stress-free atmosphere for such children, where they interact with the educator and other young learners in games (Ali et al., 2018). So, the students learn how to make friends, communicate with children representing other cultures, and realize the specifics of teacher-student interactions (Ali et al., 2018). The analyzed study supplements the previous research, proving that vulnerable categories, e.g., ethnic minorities, children of the immigrants, etc., may particularly benefit from play-based learning. Rauf and Bakar (2019) specify that free play and role-play, where children experience control most activities, are significant for social skills. They explain that play-based learning facilitates the students’ cooperation, provides appropriate behavior models in diverse situations, shows how to work in groups, teaches patience and self-control, etc. (Rauf & Bakar, 2019). Overall, the scholarly articles are consistent in that play is vital for children’s socialization. If children are discouraged from playing as their typical activity, the lack of attention to social and emotional development may outweigh possible achievements.
Play and Academic Achievement
Meanwhile, if a benefit for social skills from play-based learning is logical, a positive impact on academic achievement may be unexpected for some educators. Nevertheless, scholars convince that children may derive more meaning from games than adults may expect (Blanco et al., 2012; Bayat et al., 2014; Ali et al., 2018). Blanco et al. (2012) argue that play has a long-term impact on academic achievement and is of great educational value for children belonging to vulnerable groups. The study involving 18 eight-year-old students with academic difficulties showed a significant improvement in their performance (Blanco et al., 2012). The authors mentioned that the participants scored higher in the “Spoken Language subscale, General Information subscale, Reading subscale, Writing subscale, and Early Achievement Composite” (Blanco et al., 2012, p. 9). The scholars explain that the attention to the children’s needs and feelings, safe environment, and “the full acceptance of the child” enhance their academic potential (Blanco et al., 2012, p. 9). Thus, if the children are allowed to develop naturally while playing, they acquire new knowledge willingly and are inspired to learn more. It can also contribute to their academic performance and intelligence in middle and high school, considering that the intervention in the analyzed study showed long-term positive outcomes.
Bayat et al. (2014) illustrate how play-based activities may be used for older students. The authors conducted an experimental study, recruiting seventh-graders to explore the impact of instructional play on academic achievements (Bayat et al., 2014). The participants played the game during their free time in groups, which increased their interest in science and technology issues (Bayat et al., 2014). The students in the control group had lower scores in the course than those in the experimental group participating in educational plays (Bayat et al., 2014). Undoubtedly, play for preschoolers differs from play for middle- and high-school students, not to say about the significance of games for early childhood development. However, the previous research reveals that play-based activities can be modified and adjusted to a particular age. If children are used to learning through play, they can be willing to use this activity further, enhancing their academic achievement.
Finally, the research by Ali et al. (2018) summarizes the value of play for intelligence, affirming that games may help children develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills and teach them how to work on their own or within groups. Besides, the scholars add some new information about play-based activities, stating that they increase the students’ interest in studying and establish self-reflection (Ali et al., 2018). In other words, young learners value hard work that helps accomplish simple tasks and understand that hard efforts are needed to score high (Ali et al., 2018). Hence, the literature review proves that children learn while playing, and the acquired knowledge results in high academic achievement. Previous researches reach a consensus concerning the effect of games on social and academic skills. Future studies are needed to generalize the findings and explore the value of play-based activities for children of diverse developmental ages or the lack of social or academic skills.
The literature review affirms a vital role of play for children’s social life and academic performance. It becomes the basis of the current research paper that aims at supplementing previous findings. The following study will be dedicated to the impact of play on children experiencing difficulties with socialization and lower academic performance. The inclusion of students who may struggle to make friends, interact with peers, or grasp the new knowledge in traditional educational system may prove that play is a universal activity for all children. The findings will be valuable for teachers and parents, showing that games are not only for entertainment, while young learners can benefit from play more than from other formal activities. We expect that the use of games by educators to engage students in the learning process and allow them to self-control their studying will have a positive impact on children with social and academic challenges. Although games may be associated with multiple positive outcomes for children, e.g., physical and mental health, emotional life, well-being, etc., the study focuses on socialization and academic skills. The primary hypothesis is that children with social and academic difficulties who are frequently enrolled in play-based activities will experience better social skills and higher academic performance.
Proposed Methodology and Data Collection Strategy
The quantitative experimental research method will be used to prove or refute the initial hypothesis. This method allows the researcher to study the causal relationships between the independent (play-based learning) and dependent variables (social and academic skills), generalizing the data for a larger population (the children) (McLeod, 2019). Qualitative research would be less efficient since it provides descriptive data and focuses on variables that cannot be measured (McLeod, 2019). In contrast, the quantitative method may help measure the level of the children’s social skills and academic performance. In other words, the current research requires exact data on social life and scores to prove or refute the positive impact of games on children’s development. An experiment can also exclude research biases associated with the observer’s subjective points of view (McLeod, 2019). Also, it allows comparing the results of the experimental group with the control group, which is not involved in the intervention.
We will contact an elementary school to recruit the participants. The inclusion criteria will be difficulties with socialization and low academic performance. Teachers’ comments on the students’ social skills and academic achievement will serve to identify the children fitting the primary criteria. They will be involved in an experiment, undergoing an intervention, chiefly play sessions. A control group will be subjected to traditional educational activities. Considering the participants’ young age, parental written consent will be taken before the study. Also, parents will be informed about their right to withdraw from the experiment, which is based on their free will. Besides, all data and findings will be kept confidential and private to meet the general ethical considerations. The children in the experimental groups will attend ten-week play sessions three times a week. They will be involved in play-based activities, and educators will not interfere in the process, allowing the participants to experience self-control in their games. At the end of the experiment, both groups will complete achievement tests and social skill tests (e.g., Devereux Student Strengths Assessment). The second test will be completed by teachers, evaluating the participants’ cooperation skills, social awareness, etc. (Denham, 2016). These tools are essential to determine the outcomes of play-based activities and compare the results with the control group.
Undoubtedly, randomization would best suit the experimental design and accuracy of the findings. Considering limited resources, non-probability convenience sampling will be utilized for the current research because the participants will be recruited in a local nursery school. It meets the requirement of restricted space and can be effective for pilot studies (Maheshwari, 2017). If a current study shows a statistically significant improvement in the children’s social and academic skills, a randomized research design may be used to generalize the findings. Overall, it is expected to recruit 30 participants divided into experimental and control groups. They will have to fit the criteria of lower social and academic skills to support the hypothesis that play-based activities are universal for all children, even for those experiencing difficulties with relationships or knowledge acquisition. Besides, both groups will represent similar age and gender categories.
To sum up, the research concerns the impact of play on young learners’ social life and academic skills. Previous studies confirmed a positive association between play-based activities and children’s development. The current research will narrow down the topic and explore the universal character of games, which can be helpful for all children, regardless of their socialization or intelligence level. Therefore, the main hypothesis is that children in elementary school experiencing challenges with interaction and knowledge acquisition will benefit from play sessions and show improvements in social and academic skills. Undoubtedly, the results may be limited due to the small sample and non-randomized sampling. However, the study can become the basis of further studies, exploring the application of play-based activities for diverse students.
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