I know this little boy who loves cars and trains. And why not? He’s at that age.
So he plays with his assortment of little toy cars and a few toy trains. Curiously enough, he has never really seen a real train, nor for that matter does he really have a ‘train’ – he has a few train engines and train ‘cars’.
One day, while on a vacation, the boy and his father took a ride on a toy train – an entourage of an engine and two open compartments … all running along merrily on the road on rubber tyres.
On most days, the boy rrrrrrrs! his train engine or train car on solitary journeys.
Basically, the point I’m trying to make is that for this two-and-a-half year-old, a train is an engine or similar singular train compartment.
Then one day, he was playing by himself with a mobile fish (yep it has wheels), a truck, and two cars.
After a while, he sat up and asked: “That’s a train, no?”
And then he pronounced: “This is a train.”
And lo, there stood in front of him a train made up of the fish attached with the two cars and the truck. He pushed his little train all around the living room. He added a square box, removed a car, added two little toy-bikes and finally let it rest with a satisfied: “Yes, this is a train.”
Several months later, I had opportunity to observe the child again but this time in the presence of playmates. After playing various games of other’s choice, he then invented a game (like all the other children had done as well when it was their turn to choose a play): he arranged the five toddlers into a train where he was the engine, and they all, together, decided the route and the ‘stations’, which included different rooms, they gave names to the stations, expanded the route to the neighbours houses and their rooms … after a while they changed ‘engines’… and it went on and on.
Why am I writing about such mundane everyday activities from a child’s day? Well, these observations over seven months represent moments when I actually witnessed the transition of a fact (train as a physical object) into a concept (the idea of a train cutting across its observable physical fact); they represent moments when concrete learning schematics were formed in the brain having been through the stages of information, knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, evaluation and synthesis – in a continuous cycle that keeps leading to strengthening learning, new learning, new ideas, new tangible plays, and mastery through repetition and patterns. These plays led to learning for the observer as well with its own set of learning cycles.
All of which highlight the real challenges of creating a true, game-based learning environment – online or otherwise.