Self Directed Learning Children Education Play

WHAT IS IT? Self-directed play is the idea that children drive and structure their own play and hence learning from that play. They are able to freely follow their interests and inclinations without the constraints that adults, computers or other forms of structure place upon their world. Self-directed play has many advocates that praise its advantages in terms of the child’s development.

WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE? Self-directed play requires minimal adult intervention. For example, a child might be shown how to use a glue stick and paper and be minimally supervised while they explore those materials on their own and create a picture – or something else – from them. The adult only intervenes should the child do something dangerous – like put the glue in their eye – and otherwise refrains from limiting the child’s creativity.

Structured play with the same materials would be play where the adults determine what the child does with them. There may be a particular picture that the child must construct with the materials, in a particular way and a high amount of adult involvement in assisting the child to complete the adult determined task. There is little room for the child to explore the materials and the adult directs the play and learning from that play.

WHAT ARE ITS ADVANTAGES? Self-directed play helps a child be creative; have confidence to try things and is ideal for children who learn from doing. The child becomes skilled at structuring their own time and space, planning what they want to do and doing it. They are less likely to be bored than a child who has highly directed play because they become very used to occupying themselves and directing what they want to find out and how.

As an adult self-directed learning is virtually the only form of learning that the individual will undertake as they pursue particular career options, solve problems within jobs and learn particular skills that will help them function in their particular situation. An adult who is always looking to someone else for how to find information, or what to do, has poor life skills! Self-directed learners have an easier time.

WHAT ARE ITS DISADVANTAGES? Self-directed play can have disadvantages, especially if the adult does not get it right when it comes to balancing the amount of adult involvement. At one extreme the child can do something dangerous to others or harmful to themselves and the adult not be aware of this until it is too late. Such accidents would never happen if the child was in a highly structured environment with every step closely monitored and predetermined by the adult.

Sadly the self-directed play that  pre-schoolers enjoy often clashes with the highly structured learning environment of schools. A child who has been used to doing what they like with construction blocks or art materials must suddenly conform to particular tasks and exercises that the school imposes. This structure can confuse and frustrate the child. If the child takes too long to adapt to a new style of learning they can be labeled as having discipline or attention issues.

Self-directed learning can also make the child look less able than they are. They may make big blunders when it comes to following relatively simple directions; even a simple task like drawing a tree can leave self-directed children floundering with purple creations from another planet, while children who have had a highly structured and directed art experience will draw perfect stereotype green trees with brown trunks that are just what the adults expect. And often they get the top marks!

CONCLUSION. While self-directed learning is the ideal – and is the type of learning that adults normally have to pursue – success in the school system often requires a more structured form of learning. While children are given some freedom in schools they rarely ever enjoy the real freedom of self-directed learning – following their own interests, abilities and inclinations to whatever end they choose.