Children Learn Through Play — Can Play Also Help Address Trauma?

Children learn through play, and now the Lego Foundation is teaming with Sesame Street to help children cope with trauma through play

We have reported on the importance of play to children’s learning and development and how children learn through play.

We spoke with Kasper Ottosson Kanstrup, vice president and global head of Communities through Play at The Lego Foundation at the ReadyNation International Global Business Summit on Early Childhood, where he explained the science of how children learn through play (full video here).

Said Kanstrup: “Childhood and play goes hand-in-hand. Where children has a natural ability to learn about the world through play, right from early infancy, so that’s actually where it starts. We know that, in the early years, the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, the brain develops much faster than in any other period of life. That creates a window of opportunity where we can actually help the child develop, and stimulate them in a way that will have greater impact on their life trajectory than the rest of their life. On top of that, you can also say that research that indicates that to stimulate and have that interaction with children in their early years, then play is a natural approach, a natural way for us to interact with them, and make them learn.”

Childhood and play goes hand-in-hand.”

– Kasper Ottosson Kanstrup, vice president and global head of Communities through Play at The Lego Foundation


Now the Lego Foundation is teaming with Sesame Street to use play to help refugee children recover from trauma. 

The Lego Foundation announced that it is “awarding a $100 million grant to Sesame Workshop to ensure that young children affected by the Rohingya and Syrian crises have opportunities to learn through play and develop the skills needed for the future. Working in partnership with BRAC, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and New York University’s Global TIES for Children, Sesame Workshop will reach children affected by crises in Bangladesh and the Syrian response region with early childhood and play-based learning opportunities.” 

Said Thomas Kirk Kristiansen, Chairman of the LEGO Foundation Board: “This partnership marks the first step of the LEGO Foundation’s commitment to work within the humanitarian field to support children’s holistic development that incorporates learning through play. We hope to inspire other funders, humanitarian actors, world leaders and governments to act and urgently prioritise support for play-based early childhood development for children in humanitarian crises—a vastly overlooked but vital component in the progress of humanitarian aid. We hope that young children impacted by these crises will have opportunities to benefit from learning through play and also develop the skills needed for them to thrive in the future.”

Note: For more on how children learn through play, please see:

The New York Times reports that “the aim is to create play-based learning programs for children up to age 6 in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Bangladesh. The programs will teach basics like the alphabet and numbers, but will also emphasize social and emotional development to counter the effects of stress and suffering. They will be offered both to displaced children and to some of their potential friends in host communities.”

Sarah Smith, the senior director for education at the International Rescue Committee, told the NYT: “We know from child development research that the best way for children to learn is through exploring their world and play.”

One key to the programs: Engaging the parents. The NYT reports: “Erum Mariam, a program director for BRAC, said that many of the 240 play labs the organization has created for refugees were built by the children’s fathers and painted and decorated by mothers and children.”

“Research shows that not only is play vital for children’s psychological, emotional and cognitive health and development, but it also hones the resilience they need to overcome adversity and build their futures. Early adverse experiences negatively affect the development of brain architecture, which provides the foundation for all future learning, behavior and health. By providing play-based learning to children in crisis, we can help mitigate the detrimental, long term effects of displacement and trauma, ultimately giving a generation of refugee children a path forward,” says John Goodwin, CEO of the LEGO Foundation. 

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