Playful Learning

International research and debate on children's play and learning
Edition 2: Nov/Dec 2003

In this edition… Interactive media in children’s play and learning
Microsoft in Kindergartens The German Ministry for Family, together with Microsoft Germany, has launched a new education initiative to promote young children’s skills and competencies in using modern technologies. Over 13 million children are now online in Europe The number of European children using the Internet has increased by about three million over the last year. According to a recent study, 13.1 million children are online in Europe. Opportunities and risks for children on the Internet New research shows key findings on children’s use of the Internet. Combing physical and onscreen manipulatives is more effective for children’s learning Those who claim that computers have no place in early childhood classrooms because they pose serious hazards to children’s development, have “ignored or misinterpreted the research findings in this area”, says Professor Douglas Clements from SUNY. Zero to six year-olds spend as much time with TV, computers and video games as playing outside According to a new US study, the very youngest children in society are growing up immersed in media, spending hours a day watching TV and videos, using computers and playing video games.

Other news…
It’s tough being a toddler Parents are anxious to ensure that their toddlers do not slip behind in the educational stakes. These are the findings from two separate studies (by Mother & Baby magazine, and by LEGO Learning Institute).

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What do children need to learn before entering school? The LEGO Learning Institute publishes the findings from its recent survey with parents in UK, Germany and USA, asking which skills parents think their children need to have before entering school. Parents use music to socialise and educate their children In addition to the educational benefits of using music, new research finds that music may also be therapeutic in helping parents avoid depression and encourage harmonious interactions between parents and their young children. Building knowledge networks in young children’s brains Professor Elsbeth Stern, a leading expert in child development research, stresses the importance of building knowledge networks with young children as a basis for successful future learning. Who is your child playing with? As more and more working families rely on childcare services, there is an increasing need for research that identifies how childcare affects young children’s development, particularly with regard to children’s peer interactions.

Microsoft in kindergartens
The German Ministry for Family, together with Microsoft Germany, has launched a new education initiative called Clever Mice – Kids Discover Language (Schlaumäuse – Kinder entdecken Sprache). Organisations supporting the initiative include UNICEF, the Computer Learning Centre – part of the Technical University Berlin, a government program concerned with the development and opportunities of young people, and the Cornelsen publishing house for schoolbooks. The central focus of this initiative is kindergartens in disadvantaged areas, and the aim is to promote young children’s skills and competencies in using modern technologies for learning and communicating in age-appropriate ways. 100 German kindergartens will be taking part initially.
Source: Microsoft-Bildungsinitiative in Kindergärten, Kindergarten-heute www.Kindergarten-heute.de More information can be found at www.schlaumaeuse.de
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Over 13 million children are now online in Europe
The number of European children using the Internet has increased by about three million over the last year. According to a recent study, 13.1 million children are online in Europe. This is an increase of 27 percent during the last 12 months. The study was carried out in Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. The European front-runner is Great Britain with about 4.5 million users under the age of 18 (an increase of 58 percent), followed by Germany with 3 million, and France with 1.5 million. Among the 13.1 million children, 4 million of them are under 12 years old. The increase coincides with the expansion and scope of broadband entry to the Internet. It is likely that parents are allowing their children to access the Internet from

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home more often and for longer periods, because the cost is not as expensive as previously. This has been one of the main reasons for the increase in access to the Internet by under-12s. Children frequently visit websites that do not specifically target kids. The most popular website of users under 18 is Neopets.com (http://neopets.com). More surprisingly, perhaps, is that in a list of their top ten websites, the online stock exchange KaZaA came fifth. Google, O2, Lycos, About.com and Gator were also in the top 10 for kids.
Source: Immer mehr Kinder online, 13 Mio. Kids tummeln sich europaweit im Internet www.Kinderwelten.de 07.10.2003
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Opportunities and risks for children on the Internet
New research by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) shows that although children, parents and Internet providers are aware of the dangers on the Internet, they could be doing more to make the Internet safer for children. The research, conducted by Sonia Livingstone and Magdalena Bober, coincides with the launch of the ESRC e-society programme ran by the LSE – a 6 million pound research grant to analyse social science issues concerning the digital world. In the study, UK Children Go Online, 14 focus groups of 9-19 year olds were asked how they use the Internet and their opinions on its safety and value. The study found that children are becoming the Internet experts in families, but still mainly use the Internet as a means to communicate with friends and relatives, and for music and games. Messages about the risks of chat rooms and talking to strangers online have got through. However, many children and young people claim to have seen online pornography, and they think this type of material is more readily available on the Internet than from other sources. The research report concludes; there are significant unmet opportunities for parents, schools, service providers and the government to teach young people how to use the Internet more creatively. Young people are currently uninterested in political participation online and in creating their own web pages, they are often confused by information overload and not aware of the motives behind commercial websites. To access the full report, visit http://www.children-go-online.net/
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Combining physical and onscreen manipulatives is more effective for children’s learning
Those who claim that computers have no place in early childhood classrooms because they pose serious hazards to children’s development, have “ignored or misinterpreted” the research findings in this area. This is the opinion expressed by Professor Douglas Clements from the State University of New York (SUNY) in his recent article for the journal Young Children. Prof. Clements believes that computers can serve as catalysts for positive social interaction and emotional growth. Research in this area suggests that children

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overwhelmingly display positive emotions when using computers, especially when they use them together. Computer work can instigate collaborative working between children when they discuss, teach and build on each other’s ideas. The research also indicates that computers can facilitate cognitive interactions. Good software encourages children to engage in more advanced types of play and learning, such as language development and co-operative play. “Critics have long been worried that computers stifle creativity”, says Clements, “but used well, computers help creativity blossom”. Using computers to read and write, acquire knowledge, or express oneself, can support the expression and development of creativity (Clements 1995, Clements & Sarama 2003). Computer-facilitated interaction between children can also have a positive impact on language and literacy development. Preschoolers’ language use (words spoken per minute) is almost twice as high at the computer than at any other activity, including playdough, block play or painting (Muhlstein & Croft 1986). Through using onscreen manipulatives, children learn to apply concepts such as symmetry, pattern, and spatial order (Wright 1994). Studies show that a combination of physical and Virtual manipulatives is more effective than either alone. Activities in which children first move their bodies, for instance, walking around a shape on the floor, and then use commands to direct an onscreen turtle to make the same motions, improve mathematical understanding and problem-solving skills (Clements & Samara 1997, 1998). For more information visit www.naeyc.org/resources/journal/default.asp
Source: ‘Young Children and Technology: What does the research say?’ Douglas Clements & Julie Sarama. In ‘Young Children’, the journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, November 2003 References used in the original article: Clements, D.H. 1995. Teaching creativity with computers. Educational Psychology Review 7 (2). Clements, D.H. & Samara, J. 1997. Research on Logo: A decade of progress. Computers in Schools 14 (1-2) Clements, D.H. & Samara, J. 1998. Building Blocks – Foundations for mathematical thinking, pre-kindergarten to grade 2: Research-based materials development. www.gse.buffalo.edu/org/buildingblocks/ Clements, D.H. & Samara, J. 2003. Strip mining for gold: Research and policy in educational technology. Educational Technology Review 11 (1). www.aace.org/pubs/etr/issue4/clements.cfm Muhlstein, E.A. & Croft, D.J. 1986. Using the micro-computer to enhance language experiences and the development of cooperative play among preschool children. Cupertino, CA: De Anza College. Wright, J.L. 1994. Listen to children: Observing young children’s discoveries with the micro-computer. In ‘Young children: Active learners in a technological age’. Wright & Shade. NAEYC (pub.) “Back to top”

Zero to six year-olds spend as much time with TV, computers and video games as playing outside
Even the very youngest children in society are growing up immersed in media, spending hours a day watching TV and videos, using computers and playing video games, according to a new US study. Children six and under spend an average of two hours a day using screen media, about the same amount of time they spend playing outside, and well over the amount they spend reading or being read to. The study, Zero to Six: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers, was conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Children’s Digital Media Center in the USA. It is the first publicly released study of media use among very young children, from 6 months to six years old.

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New interactive digital media have become an integral part of children’s lives. Nearly half (48%) of children six and under have used a computer (31% of 0-3 year-olds and 70% of 4-6 year-olds). And just under a third (30%) have played video games (14% of 0-3 yearolds and 50% of 4-6 year-olds). By the time children are in the 4-6 age range, seven out of ten have used a computer. Indeed, every day, more than a quarter of 4-6-year-olds uses a computer. More than half of all children in this age group (56%) have used a computer by themselves (without sitting in their parent’s lap); 64% know how to use a mouse to point and click; 40% can load a CD-ROM by themselves; 37% have turned the computer on by themselves; and 17% have sent email with help from a parent. In fact, many children are starting even younger: one in four 0-3-year-olds have used a computer without sitting on their parent’s lap (27%). “So much new media is being targeted at infants and toddlers, it’s critical that we learn more about the impact it’s having on child development”, said Vicky Rideout, the lead author of the study. "These are astonishing data. Today's preschoolers are starting to use media much younger than we thought," said study co-author Ellen Wartella from the University of Texas. "Where previous generations were introduced to media through print, this generation's pathway is electronic. This is a trend we must follow." The study also found that parents of young children appear to have a largely positive view about TV and computers. They are significantly more likely to say TV “mostly helps” children’s learning (43%) than “mostly hurts” it (27%); and the overwhelming majority (72%) say computers “mostly help” children’s learning. They are also far more likely to say they have seen their children imitate positive behaviors from TV like sharing or helping (78%) than negative ones like hitting or kicking (36%). The study was based on a national random telephone survey of 1,065 parents of children ages six months to six years old, conducted from April to June 2003. To read the full report, visit www.kff.org
News Release published on www.kff.org/entmedia/entmedia102803nr.cfm 28 October 2003 “Back to top”

It’s tough being a toddler
The findings of the recent Kaiser Family Foundation study (see previous article) were mirrored by the results of a UK survey published this month. The 21st Century Toddler Survey, commissioned by Mother & Baby magazine with Pampers Kandoo, found that the average toddler spends almost 5 hours a day glued to a screen - over 2 hours playing on a computer and 2 hours and 40 minutes watching television. The survey was based on interviews with 2,000 parents of children aged 12 months to 3 years in the UK. It found that by the age of three, 42% of children have a television set in their bedroom, 50% have their own CD player, and 4% have a PC in their bedroom. Showered with toys, dressed in designer clothes and attending four "stimulating" play and learning activities a week, today's toddlers have many more material benefits and formal educational opportunities than their parents' generation. The survey found that working parents felt that they needed to compensate for time away from their child by buying them lots of toys, clothes and gadgets. About 66 per

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cent of parents said that their toddler got something new to play with at least once a month. Ninety per cent of parents said that television was of educational value and most were impressed at their toddler's aptitude for new technology. More than 50 per cent believed that today's toddlers were brighter and more developmentally advanced than previous generations. Despite this confidence in their children's abilities, parents are anxious to ensure that their toddlers do not slip behind in the educational stakes. As a result, the average toddler attends four paid-for activities a week at a cost of 780 pounds a year, and parents said that their child would be slower to develop without such experiences. More than 80 per cent of parents teach their toddler reading and writing, 64 per cent do basic maths with them, and 60 per cent teach them IT skills before their third birthday. Despite parents’ efforts to enhance their children’s abilities, toddlers are still being toddlers. Eighty-four per cent of parents said that their toddler regularly throws tantrums, 44 per cent hit other children, 29 per cent bite, 38 per cent refuse to share toys, and more than 50 per cent regularly throw food on the floor. Karen Pasquali Jones, editor of Mother & Baby magazine, said that it was clear from the results that many toddlers were never given the chance to get bored or to explore their own imagination. "Today's toddlers act like tiny teenagers - they've been there, done it and got the T-shirt - but they miss out on good old-fashioned, imaginative fun," she said. "Meanwhile, their free time is spent being bombarded with information from TV, videos, computers and educational books. They're expected to excel at sport and learn French and maths before they're even three”. “As a result, hot-housed 21st-century toddlers are suffering from over stimulation and their volatile behaviour is harder to handle than ever. They are failing to learn the art of inventive, imaginative play which is what toddlerhood should ultimately be about", she added. These findings are not exclusive to the UK either. Earlier this year, the LEGO Learning Institute conducted a survey of parents in five countries; UK, USA, France, Germany and Japan. The study - Time for Playful Learning? - looked at parents’ notions of children’s play and learning in a society characterised by increasing time constraints and high performance pressures. The survey found that 74% of all parents think that school-time needs to be supplemented with other planned activities to complete a child’s education. However, 59% of parents in both the USA and Germany believe their child is over-scheduled. And 83% of Japanese parents and 61% of German parents would encourage their child to spend more time choosing freely what to do rather than having scheduled activities. To hear what children themselves had to say about this, the Institute conducted an Internet survey with 8-14 year-olds in the USA and Germany. The survey found that 32% of German children feel they do not have enough free time. Interestingly, 20% of American children feel that they have too much free time. What is most worrying perhaps, is that 80% of all kids reported feeling stressed, and 20% said it is often. 28% of the children, who said they do not have enough free time, reported that they feel stressed a lot. “These trends are rooted in the desire to protect against the future by turning out fully prepared, smart children who are ready to live in whatever society may lie ahead”, says Anne Flemmert Jensen, Senior Researcher at the LEGO Learning Institute.

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“It is triggered by an undercurrent of anxiety, and appears to breed an irrational type of fear in parents. They are afraid that not pushing preschool children will result in their children being left behind academically, thus not giving them a chance to get into those schools that will secure their future”, she added. To read more about the LEGO Learning Institute study, visit www.legolearning.net
Source on 21st Toddler Survey: ‘It’s no fun being a toddler’, Times, London, November 5 2003 “Back to top”

What do children need to learn before entering school?
The LEGO Learning Institute recently published the findings from an Internet survey conducted among parents in UK, Germany and USA. 1500 parents were asked which skills they think their child needs before entering elementary school, which skills they think children need in order to do well in the future, and how confident they are that the schools today are able to give children the skills needed for the future. Two thirds of the parents put social skills on a top-three list of skills needed before entering school, closely followed by communication skills. A little more than half of the parents put the ability to look after oneself on a top three list, whereas more than one in four consider concentration and persistence to be among the three most important skills. Only about a quarter of the parents asked consider the acquisition of basic academic skills to be among the three most important for a child to have before entering school. There are significant cross-cultural differences, though. 34% of the American parents place academic skills among the three most important, whereas only 11% of the German parents consider it among the three most important skills. The results show that the emphasis among parents on the importance of teaching preschool children the basic academic drills of reading, writing and arithmetic, is significantly stronger in the USA compared to Germany. When it comes to the question whether parents feel stressed about preparing their children for school, German parents also distinguish themselves from parents in Great Britain and USA. Whereas only 37% of the German parents find it stressful to prepare their children for school, over half (52.7%) of the British and American parents find it stressful. “One probable explanation is that schools in the UK and USA emphasise giving children a ‘head start’ by teaching them the drills of reading, writing and arithmetic before they enter elementary school. This puts great pressures on parents”, says Anne Flemmert Jensen, Senior Researcher at the LEGO Learning Institute. “Longitudinal studies show that too much focus on teaching pre-school children basic academic skills may backfire later on in school life. There is much more to learning than mastering the drills of the three r’s (reading, (w)riting, and (a)rithmetics)”, she added. The study shows that parents who are preparing their 3-6 year-old children for school, believe that communication skills are going to be among the most important for a child to have in the future. Curiosity and problem solving is second on the list, closely followed by technology skills and basic academic skills.

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British parents believe communication skills are the most vital to cope with the demands of the future. Technology skills come in second. And now basic academic skills have moved into a third place (55%). Do parents believe that the schools today are able to give children the skills and competencies needed in the future? British parents turn out to be the most satisfied. A large majority of 80% are, in fact, satisfied that the schools in Great Britain are giving children the best possible foundation for developing the skills they need in the future. German parents are the least satisfied, with 64% saying they are not satisfied with today’s schools. Visit www.legolearning.net to read more.
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Parents use music to socialise their children
Some of children’s earliest social experiences are through musical interactions with their parents. Singing is often used to help children organise and learn information such as the alphabet and numbers, and many research studies indicate that most parents interact musically with their infants on a day-to-day basis. Only a small amount of research, however, has examined whether certain characteristics of parents, children, and families are related to musical interactions. For example, mothers tend to engage in more musical activities than fathers, and fathers tend to sing more playfully and expressively with their sons, whereas mothers do so more with their daughters. To extend these findings, researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City examined how often parents reported singing/playing music with their children and whether the frequency was associated with certain characteristics. Their study was conducted using data from a national study of over 2000 parents in the United States whose children were three years or younger. Overall, 60% of parents reported singing/playing music to their children daily and 32% did so weekly. Parents were more likely to sing/play music daily for their younger children (those under 2 years old) and for their first born children than for their latter born children. Mothers were also more likely to sing/play music daily than were fathers. Parents with a high school degree or higher were more likely to sing/play music daily for their children than parents who had not completed their education beyond high school. The study also found that parents who sang or played music for their children daily were less likely to report depressive symptoms, were less frustrated, and were more responsive to the crying of their young children. The research confirms that parents use music to socialise and educate their children. It also suggests that music may be therapeutic in helping parents avoid depression and encourage harmonious interactions between parents and their young children. The decrease observed in parents’ frequency of playing and singing with their older children suggests that this may be a key time to intervene with families in order to promote the educational benefits of musical interactions in the family.
Source: Musical lives - A collective portrait of American parents and their young children Lori A. Custodero, Pia Rebello Britto, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 24, 5, October/November 2003 “Back to top”

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Building knowledge networks in young children’s brains
Driven by Germany’s disappointing results at the European-wide education benchmark study (PISA) a growing number of parents want their children’s kindergartens to teach academic subjects. Parents are anxious not to miss the ‘windows of opportunity’ to train their children’s brains to understand foreign languages and play musical instruments, as they fear that a lack of training during this period cannot be compensated later. Professor Elsbeth Stern, a leading expert in child development research at the University of Berlin, is strongly opposed to this theory. According to Stern, a child’s brain is not soaking up information like a sponge. On the contrary, a well functioning brain is always filtering out only the information that is relevant for the current situation. This allows us to focus on a specific task in spite of the limited capacity of our brains. To illustrate this, Stern refers to how children learn to speak their native language. Although children are already able to understand complex word structures, they begin by using one-word sentences, which are followed by two and three word sentences. The main focus here is using only nouns and verbs. Once they have enough practice in this area they move onto using grammar rules and more complicated structures, which were not part of their language skills before. Professor Stern advocates a learning environment that is motivating and inspiring for children, where they can build an information network that forms the base for further learning. If children are not motivated by having a purpose to learn, these information networks will not evolve - learning Latin does not necessarily foster logical thinking. Germany’s education system still focuses on teaching isolated facts in separate subject areas. Stern believes that the key to success is to understand that mastery always builds on a combination of knowledge and intelligence, and that intelligence alone will never be sufficient to achieve mastery. According to Stern, a good educational system builds up a meaningful knowledge base in the early school years. Practising reading skills and mathematical calculations will enable later automation of these principles and enable further expansion of our knowledge.
Source: Wissen ist der Schlüssel zum Können, Elsbeth Stern, Psychologie heute, Juli 2003, Seite 16 ff www.mpib-berlin.mpg.de/de/forschung/eub/projekte/enterprise.htm “Back to top”

Who is your child playing with?
As more and more working families rely on childcare services, there is an increasing need for research that identifies how childcare affects young children’s development, says Richard Fabes, from Arizona State University. In particular, he stresses that research on the effects of childcare must take into consideration the largely unrecognised role that children’s peers play. According to Fabes, children are exposed to their same-age peers in childcare more regularly than at home or in their neighbourhood, and this is particularly true in centrebased childcare. As a result, much of children’s socialisation comes from interacting with peers while in organised childcare settings. Childcare entry coincides with the emergence of one of the hallmarks of children’s social interactions. In the preschool years, children begin to demonstrate a preference

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for same-sex peer-play groups. Fabes suggests that by studying children’s same-sex peer group interactions in childcare contexts, we will be able to understand the influences of childcare on children’s development. Through their research, Fabes and colleagues have found that more than 50% of all children’s peer interactions in group-based childcare centres involve play with same sex peers, about one third involve mixed-sex play, and less than one tenth involve play only with opposite-sex peers. They have also found that children’s same-sex preferences and patterns of behaviour tend to be child rather than adult driven. A separate study by Fabes has shown that there is something unique about same-sex peer interactions, particularly when it comes to children’s self-control (i.e. the ability to regulate attention and behaviour). The more time a child spends playing with other children who are able to self-regulate their physiological, emotional, attentional, and behavioural skills, the more likely they are to use and further develop these skills, and learn how to regulate themselves. Children encounter different opportunities and experiences because of their gender. For example, boys tend to engage in more active, physical play and play that is less supervised by adults, whereas girls tend to play more quietly, rely more on verbal interactions, and choose activities that involve more structure from adults. In other words, with whom children play is as critical as the amount of time they spend playing with them. Given that childcare contexts allow for regular same-sex peer interactions, these researchers suggest that different types of peer influence represent one of the most important mechanisms for how children are socialised in childcare contexts.
Source: Children at Play: The Role of Peers in Understanding the Effects of Child Care Richard A. Fabes, Laura D. Hamish, and Carol Lynn Martin, Child Development, 74, 4, July/August 2003 and Developmental Psychology, 39, 5, September 2003 “Back to top”

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