What’s our knee jerk reaction when we see a kid doing something like this?
That’s my 10-month old son — and he is CONSTANTLY into everything. I must admit my split second reaction is one of “grab him and get him interested in something else.” But then I recall all the research I’m doing on childhood cognitive development and realize, “He’s playing, he’s exploring, he’s LEARNING.” And maybe one day soon he’ll help me with the dishes. Ha!
We seem to accept this principle for the very young. Kindergartens are usually incredible spaces for exploration and play. But as children grow, we take away those opportunities in exchange for more adult-driven instruction. Why?
Plato warned us against this. Check this out from Dr. Judy Willis:

A few thousand years ago, in 360 B.C., Plato advised against force-feeding of facts to students. “Elements of instruction…should be presented to the mind in childhood; not, however, under any notion of forcing education. A freeman ought not to be a slave in the acquisition of knowledge of any kind. Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.”

The National Museum of Play offers this equation to help us create the perfect playful learning environment:
Play = Anticipation + Surprise + Pleasure + Understanding + Strength + Poise
The complete infographic is here: Elements of Play