Let’s Bring Back the Simple Joys of Playful Parenting
Charlotte Anne Wright is a Senior Research Associate at Temple University’s Infant and Child Laboratory. Her research explores parent beliefs and behaviors related to playful learning, with a focus on how parents can be supported to incorporate joy and playful learning into everyday moments shared with their child. She also studies research-to-practice gaps related to the science of learning and is particularly interested in how research and policy can be translated for effective teacher practice. She was an early childhood educator for nearly a decade before transitioning to research.
Ally S. Masters is a fourth-year PhD student in Developmental Psychology at Temple University under the mentorship of Kathy Hirsh-Pasek. She is involved in research and application in the area of playful learning internationally and is particularly interested in the mechanisms which support playful learning and supporting parents as they infuse learning and joy into daily routines.
Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek is the Stanley and Debra Lefkowitz Faculty Fellow in the Department of Psychology at Temple University and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. Her research examines the development of early language and literacy as well as the role of play in learning. With her long-term collaborator, Roberta Golinkoff, she is author of 14 books and hundreds of publications. She is the recipient of the AERA Outstanding Public Communication for Education Research Award, the American Psychological Association’s Bronfenbrenner Award, the American Psychological Association’s Award for Distinguished Service to Psychological Science, the Association for Psychological Science James McKeen Cattell Award, the Society for Research in Child Development, Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Child Development Award, the APA Distinguished Lecturer Award, and the Simms/Mann Whole Child Award.
- Active (not passive) – Allows for both hands-on and ‘minds-on’ learning.
- Engaging (not distracting) – Children are intrinsically motivated to learn and stay focused.
- Meaningful (not disconnected) – Connects experiences to prior knowledge and/or the child’s interests.
- Socially Interactive (not solo) - Offer opportunities to collaborate and learn from other people.
- Iterative (not static) - Children test and try out ideas and build on them along the way.
- Joyful (not boring) - Bring both fun and a sense of achievement to children.
Almost 400 million search results appear when you search parenting books. Parenting apps? Nearly 200 million. Parenting blogs? 53 million. There are, quite literally, millions of outlets telling us how we HAVE to parent our children. It is exhausting. More importantly, it is also unnecessary. The truth is that amidst the chores you do and the errands you run lies everything you need to give your child a well-balanced play and learning diet.
A walk through the park bursts with science, math, and critical thinking skills as you play with shadows, sort leaves, and count your steps. A ride on the bus can prompt vocabulary, reading, and communication skills as you play “I SPY” or make up a creative story about the things you see out the window. An evening folding the laundry can build early math and fine motor skills, as well as confidence as your child sorts, pairs, and folds. And a tricky bedtime routine could become a top-secret mission teaching collaboration and developing executive function as you work together to follow a step-by-step routine.
Our recent report published with the LEGO Foundation entitled, Playful Learning and Joyful Parenting, is an eye opener amidst the mountains of parenting advice. We can unlock learning magic in everyday moments simply by seeing these moments a little bit differently. The report offers evidence-based research so we can relax and stop stressing about the neighbor whose kid is enrolled in more activities than ours, or that expensive toy that promises to make each child the next tech prodigy. Every day, sometimes mundane or difficult tasks can become joyful learning experiences. Suddenly, parenting is fun, and the chores still get done! Imagine that?
We use the six characteristics of playful learning - active, engaging, meaningful, socially interactive, iterative, and joyful - as the foundation for fifteen approaches that unlock playful learning in everyday moments. This is powerful because research finds that when experiences and activities have these characteristics, learning is “stickier” and children develop the skills they need to solve hard problems, collaborate effectively with others, and think critically.
A small set of approaches coupled with the research behind them frames the infographic shared below. All fifteen approaches can be found in our full report on the LEGO Foundation’s website. So, let’s re-ignite joy in parenting as you bring learning into those everyday moments!