How Young Children Learn

Young children learn best in an environment where they can explore on their own with activities and materials that interest them. Research tells us that play, in particular, causes the brain to produce pleasure-related chemicals, like dopamine, that promote bonding and connection.

When children play, whether with their families at home or with their friends at school, the act of playing builds and strengthens relationships. In fact, when young children make new friends, it is often through sharing similar play interest. These positive friendships have been shown to not only increase social skill and emotional development, independence, resilience, and academic skill.

In addition to play’s role in social connection, play also increases cognitive connections. As children create and form new ideas, the same brain chemicals that help them connect socially also enable their brains to process information on a deeper level.
 
The National Association for the Education of Young Children explains that learning in the early years is like a “science lecture with a lab”. Young children pick up information (the “science lecture”) in many forms: books, class discussions, focuses activities, observations, etc. Play is the lab where they take what they’ve learned and apply it. Play helps children to create connections and real meaning from these new ideas.