Using a play-based type of learning environment encourages kids to explore ideas in different ways. Allowing open-ended exploration--exploration with no directed result or end--creates moments of discovery and accomplishment.
Here's what happened in my class last week. A boy was trying to build a tower with blocks stacked end to end. The tower fell after a few blocks. Then he moved it next to the wall. It still was wobbly and fell often. He placed a block flat as a foundation and built on top of that. Soon he built all the way to the window sill.
What an accomplishment! He was so proud and excited about what he had done. Then he decided to add to the tower, on top of the window sill.
He added more and more to the structure. He tried different arrangements as he played.
The ending structure was quite impressive.
This entire process took a long time. He was engaged the entire time. Even when blocks fell or would not do what he wanted, he adjusted and kept working.
I love watching kids when they get so involved in something. They are building their confidence in themselves, as thinkers and workers. They know they are accomplishing something. They learn more and more as they go. They begin to realize they are competent.
I've seen kids in activities that make them feel less competent and they lose confidence. Usually those are activities that allow little exploration or trial and error. I've seen it in testing and in pushing kids to learn what they are just not ready to learn.
We need more activities and more class experiences that build kids up instead of deflating them.