Learning through play

Have you noticed how often people hear the word ‘maths’ and pull a face, responding along the lines of “I hate maths” or “I’m no good at numbers”? But set that same person in front of a computer game and they’ll happily calculate the trajectory their character can travel in relation to the ratio of baddies versus lives in the bank – which is a little more complicated than 2+2.

This is because it’s not always easy to appreciate the way classroom learning transfers to the real world.

At the Rochester Bridge Trust we advocate learning through play or ‘stealth learning’ where children (and families as a group) take part in activities that are both fun and educational. The idea being to get young people thinking about engineering concepts before they even consider what engineering is – before stereotypes set in or other subjects steal their attention.

One example of this can be seen at the public bridge building activity days we host. These use hands-on learning in the form of K’Nex kits to build beam bridges, wooden blocks for arch bridges, planka and washers for cantilever bridges and even random pieces of cardboard and plastic for children to challenge their imaginations to some ‘junk modelling’. None of these tasks involve any obvious classroom learning and yet all of them encourage participants to think about a range of engineering principles.

In more blatant attempts at learning through play, we created Exploring Engineering Challenges, where primary-aged children are talked through a problem and then set the task of solving it.

Our Bridge Works exhibition balances more serious information with fun tasks that teach children about bridge types alongside bridge building and dressing up, ensuring the heritage side of engineering is highlighted.

Whereas on the stealthier side of learning, film screenings can show engineering in action – never underestimate the power of Hollywood!

Finally, for lighthearted learning there’s adventure golf. The course we created encourages children to think about the importance of bridges when crossing challenging terrain. Information panels next to each model then add more detail, giving an introduction to the engineering responsible for each structure.

Share this story