Love of Learning and the Work of Play

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To see a child completely absorbed in their ‘work’ of play is a beauty to behold. They are so taken up with what they are doing that they are not even aware of things going on around them. The amount of engagement they have with the ‘subject matter’ is incredible. In this state, kids can concentrate for long periods of time, oblivious even of people trying to get their attention. Imagine the depth and breadth of the learning happening when a child is this engaged and interested.

What if this concentration, this passion, continued throughout your life, beyond those early playful days? Skills and knowledge expanding with ease, no matter what the situation:

“As a society we simply expect pre-school children to learn successfully from everyday life. When they begin school the assumption is that the learning then required of them, by virtue of its presumed deeper intellectual content, will need to be specifically arranged and presented; in short they will need to be deliberately taught. However, there seems to be no substance behind the idea that the efficacy of informal learning should run out at or around this point. Informal home education illustrates that it is quite feasible for children to continue learning in the same way as before.” (p.141, Alan Thomas, How Children Learn at Home)

It may be difficult to accept that learning can be fun, especially if personal experiences of academic learning at school (most commonly association with learning) felt or feels like hard work. Interest and engagement may have never been experienced in connection with learning.

Parents, watch your children closely as they play. Many wonders are happening before your eyes. As the quotation suggests above, many of the expected developments that a child goes through before they embark on academic learning have occurred through what Linda Pound calls ” ‘hunger for experiences’ or drive to learn.” (p.76, Linda Pound, How Children Learn).

Why does all of that energy, drive and enjoyment of learning seem to disappear after academic education starts for many children? Learning, which seemed so natural and intuitive, becomes a chore rather than an interesting challenge. Perhaps the child’s personal methods of learning are overridden in the school environment and do not seem to have a place in learning academic skills. Before long, there is little recollection of the wonders of early learning. For many, the thought of learning as something that can come naturally and joyfully has all but disappeared.

Play and fun are powerful tools for helping children engage with learning. Conversely, if a child is not interested, they can readily ‘switch-off’ and this does not make for efficient nor effective learning. Theories of learning associated predominantly with Piaget and Vygotsky, acknowledge the value of play: associating play with creativity; problem solving and social development. All important skills to develop, even academically. (p.74, Linda Pound, How Children Learn)

How to keep the love of learning and engagement alive

It is important to be aware of messages we give children about learning. These can often be subtle and implied e.g. learning is hard vs learning is a challenge, one implies that it is something that takes a lot of investment which may not give a comparable return, the other implies that energy will be needed, but that through working at it and persevering you can succeed.

The learning environment and messages given about learning:

  • Is learning fun, interesting, challenging and exploratory, or something difficult which is a chore that must be endured for an inexplicable reason?
  • Is learning something which you can engage with and develop yourself and your skills, or is it something which is done to you?
  • Is learning something you wish to do because you are interested in learning more about things that are being done around you or that you have seen something that piqued your interest and you want to know more. Or is it something that someone external to you prescribes and takes away your autonomy and freedom seeming that there is perhaps only a single way to learn, maybe not in tune with your personal strengths and needs?
  • Is learning something you engage with through self motivation and personal involvement because learning is part of your life,  something you do and it has value in and of itself. Or do you ‘have’ to do it to achieve ‘success’ in your life, to amount to something? Is it something to do to pass the test, get the grade with the least expenditure of energy.

By these comparisons, it seems likely in some cases that a child will become switched off from learning, and even if showing themselves capable, may do the bare minimum necessary to pass a test, or to get by rather than learning for the love of learning.

In addition to adjusting the language you use to talk about learning, as outlined in the quotation above, there are other ways available to keep the love of learning alive and well: Whole life learning, either in place of school or as an adjunct to a schooling experience so that schooled children feel that learning doesn’t only have a single representation.

How might this look:

  • Putting the interests of a child above curriculum.
  • Facilitating the interests that a child has, surrounding them with many materials to help them gain knowledge they will retain because they have interest and help them develop a wide range of skills they are interested in learning,
  • Challenging our own inherited feelings about learning being a chore, surrounding them with an outlook that learning happens through whole life experiential learning and is an active process to be engaged in rather than passively receiving.
  • Emphasising that growth and development is possible, that we are not born with a fixed capability to learn.
  • Perhaps learning alongside your child, even if you aren’t interested at the start, it won’t be long before you are carried away by their interest and enthusiasm. You may develop enthusiasm simply for seeing joyful learning experiences, whatever the topic, because your child holds a special place in your heart and life.

If you are led to whole life learning, you will find a way. There are many resources and ideas available.

You will grow and develop alongside your child and wonder at how easily learning seems to happen – all the time, sometimes not even being aware of when and how the learning was happening – it was just part of life itself.

What a wonderful gift for your child, and your own learning!

“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die is a process of learning.”J Krishnamurti




Natalie has spent many years employed as a scientist. Since she committed to supporting her children's whole-life learning, Natalie has developed a strong interest (both general and personal) in how and why people learn and develop. This interest led to the creation of the site you’re currently on, “Learning, Always”.

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