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Can guidance during play enhance children’s learning and development in educational contexts? A systematic review and meta-analysis

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This systematic review and meta-analysis considered evidence of guided play compared to direct instruction or free play to support children’s learning and development. Interventions from 39 studies were reviewed (published 1977-2020); 17 were included in meta-analysis (N total =3893; M childage = 1-8 years; M girls 49.8%; M ethnicity White 41%, African American/Black 28%, Hispanic 19%). Guided play had a greater positive effect than direct instruction on early math skills (g =0.40); and than free play on spatial vocabulary (g =0.93). Differences were not identified for other key outcomes. Narrative synthesis highlighted heterogeneity in the conceptualization and implementation of guided play across studies. (author abstract)

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