Tips and Guides

What is Discovery Learning?

outdoor playground equipment messy area

There are a number of different styles of teaching and learning when it comes to young children’s education. From sensory play, outdoor play to imaginative play, there are a number of exciting ways to teach children valuable skills. 

One other example of this is discovery play, which allows children to learn about the world and how it works. There are a huge number of benefits in this method, which allows children to develop more holistically and develop a wider skillset that they can use later in life. 

Let us look at the different kinds of play as well as the benefits that discovery play can bring to children and students. 

What are the Different Types of Play?

According to sociologist Mildred Parten Newhall, there are six distinct stages of play from infancy until preschool. Each one offers an opportunity for children to learn valuable lessons about themselves and the world. Here are the six main stages:

  • Unoccupied Play – When a child is sitting in a corner and playing with their feet. It might not seem like they’re doing much but they are taking in the world around them and observing.
  • Solitary Play – This is when unoccupied play takes on more structure, with games, books or toys being their focus. This helps develop gross motor skills and develop problem-solving. 
  • Onlooker Play – When a child will observe group activities but not join in. This is a vital precursor to group play. 
  • Parallel Play – When children engage in group play but don’t necessarily join in with a group activity. They may use a communal group of building materials and create things alongside each other. 
  • Associative Play – This takes parallel play a step further but instead of building their own creations separate form each other, they will work together to build a city. 
  • Cooperative Play – Team sports or group performances become a lot more fun. Now they’re ready to apply the skills they’ve learned to other parts of their life. 

These are broad types of play which all consist of smaller more specific learning styles. For example, sensory play would often fall under associative play. Discovery play can sit under a couple of these concepts depending on how it is carried out, such as solitary play and cooperative play. 

What is Discovery Play and Learning?

As mentioned previously, it is a means in which children can learn about the world and how it works. Discovery play is quite freeform and is typically characterised by having minimal teacher guidance, fewer teacher explanations, solving problems with multiple solutions, use of hand-on materials, minimal repetition and memorization. 

More often than not, it’s more enjoyable for children to experiment with the environment and see what does what and why. This is the really fun part of learning, perhaps because it’s spontaneous. Discovery toys mean toys that are mainly designed to engage children into play while leading them to make new discoveries (e.g. how engines work, how to build a stable structure, the concept of gravity through marble runs, etc…). 

While it is very self-led, the teacher’s involvement is essential, with inquiry-based instruction rather than commands. Pure unassisted discovery should be eliminated due to the lack of evidence that it improves learning outcomes. Discovery learning can also result in students becoming confused and frustrated.

What are the Benefits of Discovery Learning?

So how does this benefit students? Discovery-based learning has a number of benefits which help develop students. It encourages active engagement from students, promotes motivation, promotes autonomy, responsibility, independence, develops creativity and problem-solving skills and provides a tailored learning experience for that student. Discovery-based learning is the development of inquiring minds and the potential for life-long learning.

Early research demonstrated that directed discovery had positive effects on retention of information at six weeks after instruction versus that of traditional instructional methods. This is because students may be more likely to remember concepts and knowledge discovered on their own. Concepts that are based upon the discovery learning model include guided discovery, problem-based learning, simulation-based learning, case-based learning, incidental learning, among others. 

What is a Discovery Area?

This is an important space and component in any discovery learning process. It is a learning environment where children explore and investigate to answer their questions. They observe, experiment, measure, solve problems, take things apart, and handle the materials and living things we put out. They predict what will happen as a result of their actions.

They ask questions, plan and conduct investigations, gather information, construct explanations, and communicate findings. They also learn important scientific concepts as they study plants, animals, magnets, properties of materials, light, shadows, how things work, rainbows, the human body, our senses, how things move and change, and more. In addition to learning about science content, they learn how to solve problems and how to communicate with others.

Encourage Discovery Play at Your School

Does this sound like something your school can implement? We at Red Monkey Play can help complement your teachers perfectly and elevate your students to the next level.

Experience on our website all the success we’ve had with our playground design. We have a truly bespoke and consultative approach to playground design. With a range of different play equipment options, including role play school equipment and outdoor wooden climbing frame options. 

Check out our bespoke playground design case studies to see for yourself. We’ll make the perfect outdoor classroom for you!

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