Is Play Better Than Direct Instruction? Learning About Causal Systems through Play


It is commonly believed that children are able to learn through play. Recent studies have found that children are able to learn causal rules through free play (Sim & Xu, in press). One such study found that children learned how to correctly activate machines, using either a block that was the same shape or color as the machine, when given five minutes to play with them. However, would children be able to learn a more complex causal rule through free play as well and would their performance be comparable to children who were didactically taught the same causal rule? In the current study, we show that children are able to learn more complex causal rules through free play. We also show that children perform significantly better when learning these rules through free play or by first engaging in free play and then observing, as opposed to solely through observation.

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