Guided Play: A Solution to the Play Versus Learning Dichotomy

  • Tamara Spiewak ToubEmail author
  • Vinaya Rajan
  • Roberta Michnick Golinkoff
  • Kathy Hirsh-Pasek
Part of the Evolutionary Psychology book series (EVOLPSYCH)


A fundamental question guiding early childhood education research is the ideological debate of how children learn. A dichotomy exists, suggesting that play and learning are mutually exclusive. Evolutionary perspectives can offer insight into how to best educate children and what the role of play might be. We consider the evolutionary perspectives of Peter Gray, who proposes that humans evolved to primarily learn from self-directed free play and exploration, and David Geary, who advocates using direct instruction to promote biologically secondary (i.e., non-evolved) skills. In this chapter, we embrace guided play, which is a type of playful learning that combines the benefits of free play with the value of direct instruction to promote academic, socio-emotional, and cognitive development. In guided play, an adult supports children’s learning through scaffolding techniques while still maintaining child-led direction. We discuss how guided play naturally incorporates four key pillars for effective learning. Specifically, we synthesize research demonstrating that humans learn best when: (1) they take an active role in the learning environment, (2) they are engaged, (3) information is meaningful, and (4) they interact in a social context. We conclude by suggesting possible avenues for future research on guided play.


Guided play Playful learning Play Education Early childhood Evolutionary perspectives Pedagogy Science of learning Direct instruction Discovery learn 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tamara Spiewak Toub
    • 1
    Email author
  • Vinaya Rajan
    • 2
  • Roberta Michnick Golinkoff
    • 3
  • Kathy Hirsh-Pasek
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Behavioral and Social SciencesUniversity of the SciencesPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.School of Education and Departments of Psychology and Linguistics and Cognitive ScienceUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA
  4. 4.Brookings InstitutionWashington, DCUSA

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