The Virtues of Daydreaming & 30 Other Surprising (& Controversial) Research Findings About How Students Learn

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The Virtues of Daydreaming & 30 Other Surprising (& Controversial) Research Findings About How Students Learn” by Julie DeNeen was first seen on informED.
Have you checked your assumptions about student learning at the door?
People in general, hold onto beliefs that are shaped by early experiences, the media, and faulty influences. The following list is a compilation of research that may surprise you. Video games, e-books, playtime, and music are all a part of an educator’s repertoire.
Read on, and be prepared to put your traditional beliefs aside as science points to innovative methods that indicate future success.
1. Playing scary and violent video games help children master their fears in real life.
Until recently, studies done with regards to children and video games usually centered on the negative impacts and consequences of prolonged use. But a study done by Cheryl K. Olson that appeared in the Review of General Psychology suggests that there are a lot of psychological benefits to video games.
She recognized several social motivations for playing video games including competition, a reason to hang out and casually converse with friends, and teaching peers how to play a game. The psychological motivations for video games are even more profound.
In boys who struggle with stress, fear, and anger- negative emotions that can have violent consequences- video games acted as a safe alternative for the release of pent up emotion.
There were other findings as well, comprising the fun of “unreality”- experimenting with a world where natural laws are suspended- plus the fun of challenge, mastery, and playing with different identities. These findings reveal that video games can be an alternate way to release negative emotion, and help children alleviate their innate desire for risk and adventure.
2. Video games can lessen disruptive behaviors and enhance positive development in ADHD children
The Australian Journal of Educational & Developmental Psychology published a study about the use of video games to help children with ADHD. The sample of children was small, so more research is needed. But the results of this study indicated that the video game (designed to teach kids how to control their heart rate and breathing) had a significant impact on behavior.
This finding flies in the face of popular remarks such as, “Video games make my child hyper,” and “ADHD is a disease that inflicts this generation because of video games.” These beliefs are not backed by scientific study, and in some cases, it is these very biases that slow down inquisitive minds that might dare to think otherwise.
3. Practical work in science provides children little or no learning at all
In an attempt to enrich learning, science curriculums often have practical work or labs that teach the science concepts learned in the textbook. However, an in-depth review by Justin Dillon from King’s College in London, found that practical work isn’t always as effective as it may appear on the surface.

A lot of labs are designed so that students follow a “recipe” or list of directions that don’t exercise critical thinking skills.

A lot of labs are designed so that students follow a “recipe” or list of directions that don’t exercise critical thinking skills. In fact, using other mediums like technology to master scientific principles can give students more time to reflect on important concepts, without wasting time and resources on a poorly developed lab.
There is no question that scientific curriculum needs to be enhanced in some way, but typical lab work may no longer be the way to go. Of course, more research is needed, but it is unwise to assume that simply because a class has a hand’s on experiment- that they are learning the crucial necessary skills.
4. Chess makes kids smart
Patrick S. McDonald, a great lover of chess and the Youth Coordinator for the Ontario Chess Association, compiled a series of papers and research that highlights the benefits of chess, especially as it relates to education. Honestly, there isn’t much negative to say about chess. It is an inexpensive game, a great opportunity for socialization among many different age groups and levels.
It forces students to slow down, concentrate, use precise thinking, active both inductive and deductive reasoning, as well as recognizing difficult and complex patterns.
Teachers who are in charge of children with mental and physical disabilities can also benefit from chess. It is a game that does not discriminate, and no matter what level you learn to play, it helps children to understand that “losing” the game is as valuable as winning.
5. Gardening improves children’s desire to learn and boosts their confidence
The Royal Horticulture Society in the UK has started a campaign to bring gardening back into the school systems. Thousands of schools have participated and some of the findings point to gardening as a crucial learning tool for children. These are just some of the few findings.

Kids who garden show a better ability to concentrate.

  • Gardening helped use up surplus energy in active kids.
  • The process of growing something from seed to fruit helps teach children responsibility and managing a living organism.
  • Some students learned valuable math skills as they sold their produce to the town for a profit.
  • Getting in touch with the dirt and bugs, helped some young students overcome their fears.
  • An English teacher found her student’s creativity in poetry expanded after working in the garden.

Gardening touches on so many different school subjects, from the science of photosynthesis, to nutrition, math, and even English. Kids who garden show a better ability to concentrate, whether it is because they have an opportunity to engage their whole bodies in the learning process, or simply because learning in the outdoors is good for the mind, heart, and body.
6. Playing with blocks increases neuron count in children
Schools are endangering a student’s creative intelligence when they replace all scheduled playtime with academic study. As the trend moves more towards structuring a curriculum that teaches to a standardized test, psychologists who study play are screaming that this is the wrong move.
In the Community Playthings article about the wisdom of play, researchers note that something as simple as toy blocks can have incredible impacts on a young student’s mind. Even with 15 minutes of free play, children will use some of that time learning about mathematical and spatial principles. Blocks, one of the simplest and longstanding toys, teach geometry, patterns, shapes, colors, and physics.
Even high-tech industries like NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory take into consideration a person’s background of play when they are hiring new scientists.
This is because research shows that children who have ample opportunity to play and manipulate the environment creatively, will be the most innovative and original thinkers as adults.
7. Teaching kids at a very early age is counterproductive to their learning
What is more beneficial- to teach a child how to use an object, or to allow them to explore the object without direct instruction? The research outlined in Alison Gopnik’s article on Slate (dot) com gives us some startling facts.
When children in a controlled study were given a toy that did multiple things like squeaking, play music, etc., the children who had a teacher instructing them on how the toy worked did not explore it further than the directions given by the adult. However, the students who were given the toy with no specific instructions discovered the way it worked, as well as several different other mechanisms that weren’t immediately obvious.
Psychologists are drawing the conclusion that early academic learning structured around directive teaching not only inhibits creativity, but stunts a child’s natural curiosity to discover how the world works.
8. Music and movement augment children’s language capabilities during the preschool years
Music has a calming effect on children and adults alike. Though much of modern education focuses primarily on visual sight for learning, the auditory processes are critically important for language acquisition. The younger the child, the more important music becomes.

Children who engage in music from a young age have a more finely tuned ability to speak and communicate

For example, when children learn nursery rhymes that are set to a steady beat; they learn to appreciate the pacing of words and how to speak more clearly. Songs that are taught for the purposes of remembering routines (like cleaning up or going to bed) activate the part of the memory that is used when memorizing sight words and other rote principles.
Research shows that children who engage in music from a young age have a more finely tuned ability to speak and communicate. Music must continue to be a part of a young child’s learning environment.
9. Green spaces or natural backyards elevate children’s learning through discovery
How important is it for children to play and interact with the great outdoors? Does it really make a difference in the educational process? The research says yes. Not only is it critical for children to have time to play outside, but the type of outdoor environment is important as well.
Research documented in Colorado University’s Journal of Children, Youth, and Environments noted that students who were given access to green woodlands, ponds, and other natural habitats had an increase in social cooperation and creativity, as opposed to the children who were given an asphalt yard with a jungle gym.
Not only did the student’s enjoy the environment more, but the teachers also incorporated the outdoor area into their formalized curriculum. It became a place to learn about ecosystems, science, gardening, and preserving the Earth.
The more natural and open the environment, the greater the invitation for discovery through curiosity.
10. Drama and comedy in the classroom encourage children to listen and participate
Teachers are constantly thinking about new and innovative ways to encourage active participation with their students. An engaged child is one who is more likely to absorb information, retain it, and make real-life associations with the knowledge.
In order to engage students, several activities or processes need to be present. In Beyond the Journal, authors and educators Judy R. Jablon and Michael Wilkinson outline the following:

  • Some prior understanding or knowledge of the material
  • An environment that fosters questions and investigation
  • The ability to work in a group or collaborative setting
  • Offering multiple choices so students can be self-directed
  • Independent thinking
  • Games, drama, and humor

It might not come as a surprise, but laughter is a great indicator of engagement. Just like tears or anger, it is a vibrancy of emotion that shows a student’s entire mind and feelings are engaged in the activity.
11. Children who construct their own video games experience increased cognitive and social growth
In a primitive society, children learned necessary survival skills by mimicking their elders. It was essentially, learning in action. In modern times, academics are often taught rather than “shown”- removing this type of opportunity from the educational process.
However, research outlined in the Lookstein Online Journal indicates that children show cognitive growth when they are given the task of creating their own video game. In order to develop such a game, students must use prior knowledge, create links between scenes, and take control of their learning through trial and error.
In essence, it is another way to create and active learning environment similar to ancient history. Children must use logic, survival skills, and generate new ideas and solutions in order to complete the game.
12. Interest areas in the classroom promote a child’s autonomy and choice making
When children catalog an experience in their minds, research shows that they are more apt to remember the place or location, than the person or thing. This acute sensitivity to detail is one of the main reasons that architects and educators should pay careful attention to the types of spaces they are designing for classrooms.
According to the Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences, Jaclynn Shaw, of Kansas State University reports that children have four major needs while in their learning environment; the ability to move around the space, the ability to engage all five senses, the need to feel a sense of confidence, safety, and success, and a level of independence and control. One way to accomplish this is through interest areas.
Interest areas are different sections in the classroom that focus on a certain skillset or study; science, social collaboration, art, reading, etc. When the students are paired in groups and given the chance to move from area to area, it helps foster a sense of control.
They get to make choices, move in the classroom, and explore independently. These skills build confidence in young students.
13. Economically disadvantaged children reap long-term benefits from preschool
There is no doubt that a well thought out preschool education program can provide long-term benefits for any young child. However, W. Steven Barnett, Ph.D., in the National Institute for Early Education Research suggests that it is the disadvantaged populations that benefit the most.
In impoverished areas, parents are not able to provide their children with the optimal learning environment. Instead, adults struggle to find work and make ends meet, and the academic and creative needs of an impressionable young child go to the bottom of the pile. A child growing up in a financially secure home may be offered an enriching environment if the mother and/or father have the resources to invest in early education initiatives at home. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the lower class, and the reason why preschool is so important.
The brain of a young child is incredibly impressionable from ages 0-6. When there are positive influences during this time, there is a higher likelihood that those experiences will shape the child’s future for years to come.
14. Learning, for children with ASD, is affected by classroom acoustics, artificial lighting, and windows
Children with autism and related disorders are greatly impacted by their environment, more so than the average child. In many cases, it takes a child’s full concentration to simply interact with another student or teacher, so classrooms need to eliminate any unnecessary distractions. The Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences studied different areas of the classroom and found ways to reduce excess stimulation for these children.
Students do better when their work areas are tucked in a nook with walls and other makeshift boundaries sectioning off their space. Putting a desk against a wall with a bookshelf on either side can minimize distractions. Secondly, adding carpet on the floors and even on the walls will muffle the noise and echo of an empty concrete room. Teachers can also add curtains, floor pillows, and rugs to further muffle noise.
Another crucial necessity is natural light. Fluorescent lighting is difficult on the eyes and can be render a child with ASD completely ineffective. Instead, opt for large windows and skylights that allow sunlight to pour in. These changes can make a big difference in the learning potential of a student suffering from Autism.
15. Engaging children in planning and reflection enhance their predictive and analytic capabilities
When you think of a classroom curriculum in action, you might suppose that the teacher plans the lesson and then the children carry it out. But more and more, educators are seeing the importance of teaching the children how to plan.
This important skill is not only useful in everyday life, it seems that it enhances a child’s capabilities as well. In a journal put out by the NAEYC, they noted that the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation found that students who were given a chance to learn how to plan out their activities, performed better in language and other skills.
When a child is brought into the process of planning and reflection, it forces them to evaluate what behaviors and actions are necessary to complete a task. When the plan does not work, they then must analyze why it didn’t and what must be done to get back on track.
16. Mature make-believe play provides the most beneficial context for children’s development
Do you remember playing “store” or “restaurant” when you were a child? These imaginative scenarios, in which children take on roles, props, themes, and collaborate with other children, is one of the most crucial avenues for development.
In an article written by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, they make the argument that play is an ever-evolving skill that children must be guided through. Whereas young kids used to play in multi-level age groups (perhaps in a neighborhood or in a family with a lot of children) having older peers in which to mimic and follow, now students are segregated according to age. This means that the teacher is now in the primary role of teaching children how to play.
There also must be ample time for play. Sessions that are only 10-15 minutes do not give a child the opportunity to play out the scenarios, actions, and sequences necessary to really engage the senses, the mind, and the child’s innate creativity. The classroom must allow room for these play-based scenarios, as they are one of the building blocks of learning.
It is within this context that children build the preliminary skills for advanced academic understanding.
17. Children are not blank slates on which adults imprint knowledge
Children’s brains are far more powerful and intuitive than we ever imagined. As more and more research is done on the impact of early education on children, the results continue to point to a surprising conclusion; when children are given a rich environment to explore, they naturally use scientific processes to discover the world around them.
Alison Gopnik, professor at the University of California, reported this in her research that was outlined in the September issues EdWeek’s blog. The push for more academics, more structure, and more early academic intervention is not necessarily beneficial. Adults are not the “givers” of information, but rather facilitators that allow children to use their natural curiosity to discover the world. It would seem that one of the best predictors of future academic success is built on this foundation.
18. Young children learn about prejudice by instruction, older children by experience
Science Daily released an article last March that gives educators insight into how children form opinions about discrimination and prejudice. When several different age groups of children were put into differing groups (with one group discriminating against the other), the younger children were more influenced by a teacher’s comments regarding the discriminating group than their actual experience. With the older group of children, they relied on their experience, and not the teacher’s opinion.
This has profound implications for early education teachers, as well as parents and caregivers. Young children will believe adults, even when it contradicts their own personal experience. However, this only lasts for a short time during development. By 5th grade, most kids will trust their peers or their own experience over an adult, even an influential one.
Delivering a positive message about ethnicity and social equality is best communicated in younger ages in order to make a lasting impact.
19. Play-based learning increases children’s attention span
In this study done by the Australian Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology, researchers took a closer look at how teacher’s beliefs regarding early education influence the classroom environment. A group of teachers partook in the study and here were some of the findings.

When teachers have confidence in a child’s ability to learn independently, the child/teacher relationship is stronger.

When teachers have confidence in a child’s ability to learn independently, the child/teacher relationship is stronger. Teachers are then able to take a more “facilitative” role and observe the student actively learning. The educators also recognized that when children are allowed to learn through play, there is far less time spent on behavior management. A child’s attention span is also longer.
Play-based learning shifts the focus of learning from the outcome or goal, to the process.
20. Children learn more when they initiate an activity and are actively engaged in it
Curiosity is the birthplace of learning. If you follow a two-year-old around for even a couple of hours, you will watch as he explores the world organically, following his innate curiosity about how things work, taste, feel, look, and sound. When a parent or teacher can harness the power of that curiosity, it is like riding a wave that already has momentum.
The Center for Development and Learning gives caregivers helpful advice about how to maximize a child’s early experiences. One of the key points centers on this foundation of curiosity. To give a child a chance to initiate learning, the caregiver must remain in the background, supporting the child’s natural curiosity and offering helpful ways to explore.
This is different from the traditional model of instruction, where a teacher doles out knowledge and asks the student to learn the information.
21. Rapping helps children learn the concept of place value in math
The Southwest Educational Development Laboratory put out a classroom math lesson that included a rap song! It is not all that surprising that rap music helps with mathematical concepts. The steady rhythm, and the cadence and rhyming of words make the song easier to remember. The concept is written into the lyrics and the children can learn the song, and thus the mathematical rule.

Music is a proven method to aid learning. Classical music has been shown to help concentration, and rhyming melodies are far easier to remember than a list of facts. It activates the auditory system, allowing the child to use another one of their five senses to learn.

22. Reinforcing children’s capabilities as confident explorers build children’s resilience and confidence
One of the most impactful moments for a child is when they understand that a caregiver or teacher believes in his/her ability to learn. This boost of confidence activates the already-present learning mechanisms available in the brain, and helps propel them forward to discover new things in the world.
Teachers can do this by standing back, providing opportunities for children to collaborate in groups, as well as offering reflection after the experience, so the child can see what worked and what didn’t. The Open University’s research proves that an adult’s confidence in a child also helps motivate them when experiments fail.
Failure no longer becomes a negative thing, but another learning experience.
23. Children who are encouraged to talk to themselves aloud have increased probability of learning
Have you ever stood in front of a mirror and rehearsed a presentation or important conversation you were about to have? Science proves this is a helpful method of learning and self-analysis.The Council for Exceptional Children incorporated the idea of self-talk intheir article about student learning.
If a student is working on a math problem or difficult concept, self-talk can help with reasoning and logic. Speaking a loud activates another of the five senses, hearing, and can possibly catch minute details that the eyes keep missing when the child looks over the problem again and again.
This concept also works with writing. If a child reads their report or paragraph out loud, the ear is better able to pick up on awkward phrasing than simply using the eyes.
24. Children behave better when parents are involved in their education at home and at school
When a parent sends a child on the bus to school, it doesn’t mean that all learning is pushed to the school. Parents are a crucial component to their child’s success. The NYU Child Student Center writes about parents as the key ingredient to a successful school career.
Learning continues even after school is done. Parents can help their children with homework, reading, extra enrichment activities, as well as be informed of school behavior problems or social situations that need attending. When parents are active in their child’s education, this minimizes emotional disturbances and other negative situations that can impair the educational process.
25. Game playing can develop a positive attitude towards mathematics for children
Mathematics can easily become a tedious and dry subject, full of repetitive problems, formulas, and exams. But when teachers add games to the curriculum, student’s attitudes about math change dramatically. According to Leicha Bragg’s research from Deakin University, she noted that game playing helped change children’s perspective on the subject of math.
More kids were able to articulate positive emotions surrounding math, as well as an increase in confidence about different concepts. There was more energy for math, more motivation, and ultimately more success. It seemed that playing math games helped to alleviate the tediousness of repetitive problem solving.
26. Children who participate in laughing activities experience increase in memory retention
Do you remember the last time you had a good belly laugh? If you are fortunate enough to have laughter as part of your everyday life, you can probably easily remember what triggered it. Laughter is evidence of an engaged body, mind, and heart, increasing the likelihood that you are able to recall what triggered the positive emotion.

Laughter not only increases a child’s capacity to remember the humor, but it also gives a feeling of security and contentment.

Pam Schiller and Clarissa A. Willis, both PhD authors, speakers, and curriculum specialists, put out an article that highlights this fact. They note that laughter not only increases a child’s capacity to remember the humor, but it also gives a feeling of security and contentment. It is important that teachers use funny songs, games, or silly phrases to start a lesson.
This positive beginning sets up the lesson for success.
27. Children who use electronic books show more cooperation and retain more information
As technology speeds ahead, the learning environment and classroom is rapidly changing. Books especially, are going through a digital overhaul, as more and more texts are available online and in ebook format.
In a Scroll Essay called The Effects of Electronic Books Designed for Children in Education, students who used e-books with sound effects, narration, music, and video were able to find and recite more information than the children who used a traditional printed text. The use of the e-book also enhanced group cooperation and gave the students more opportunity to interact.
In essence, the e-book was more conducive to group activity than individual private reading.
28. Boys engage more in exploratory play while girls engage more in dramatic play
Browse the aisle of a toy store, and most people can identify toys that are marketed towards girls versus boys. Although there is benefit to exposing both boys and girls to a wide variety of toys, research still notes that boys are drawn more to exploration, and girls are drawn more to dramatic play.
The Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences put out an article on gender differences that converged on the same bottom line. Boys tend to be more assertive in their interactions and games, whereas girls are more intuitive and relational as they play.
Though this is the norm, it is important to note that teachers shouldn’t automatically assume that each gender isn’t capable of playing in the other way. Instructors should acknowledge these differences, make room for each gender to play as they are naturally wired, while encouraging them to try out methods that they may not naturally be comfortable with.
29. Phonemic awareness and alphabet recognition increase children’s chances of reading achievement
As soon as a child is two years old, they can begin to recognize letters, numbers, and the association of sounds that go along with them. These pre-reading skills are an early indicator of a child’s ability to read and enjoy literature as a child, teen, and adult.
According to Scholastic Research and Results, there are a lot of pre-reading skills that are necessary for literacy, but two stand out as most important; phonemic awareness (understanding the sound a letter makes), as well as alphabet recognition. Even though reading is a visual skill, activating the ear to recognize the different sounds of each letter is the foundation on which reading is built.
When a child doesn’t make these connections, a lifetime of literary frustration is sure to result.
30. Getting in rhythms helps children grasp fractions
Fractions aren’t the easiest concept for a child to learn. However, it is a foundational mathematical principle that is necessary for future advanced mathematics. But there seems to be a connection between music and fractions that is proving to be beneficial.
In an article from the SF State News, educators have noticed that clapping, drumming out a beat, notations, and chanting help students understand the concept of fractions. In music theory, notes are identified by halves, eighths, sixteenths, etc. and students have a visual way to begin placing fractions in context.
The results show that students who use music and rhythm to teach fractions score notably higher on math exams that those that don’t. So get out your drums and your hands, and begin clapping your way to a better understanding of fractions.
31. Daydreaming boosts brains [Editor’s Addition]
Daydreaming is often seen as wasting time and sometimes a lack of the ability to focus. But recent research found the opposite is true.
Among its many benefits, daydreaming has been associated with longer attention span, increased resolve, creativity and even higher IQ.
Perhaps this explains why some of the brightest minds in the world are born daydreamers – Einstein being a prime example. In fact, Elizabeth Blackburn, Australia’s first female Nobel prize winner, said, “I think you need time to daydream, to let your imagination take you where it can … Just do that some of the time, because I’ve noticed [that] among the creative, successful scientists who’ve really advanced things, that was a part of their life.”

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