I didn’t learn my states or capitals or countries through formal education, rather I absorbed them by osmosis through play. When I was a kid, we spent hours with a wooden puzzle of the United States: each state was a different piece and printed underneath was the state capital. We learned to recite all the answers just by repeated exposure. The spare bathroom was wallpapered in National Geographic maps, providing a subliminal education as we used the facilities. It didn’t seem like learning at all, but the absorbed geography is still engrained decades later.
A similar opportunity is being realized with Legos, that now align Braille with special Lego pieces. The bumps on the plastic toys correspond to actual Braille symbols and the toys also contain the corresponding English letter. Just by playing with the bricks, children will similarly absorb the knowledge that they may not even realize they are learning.
Chemistry Crayon Labels are subtly teaching children about chemical properties by labeling crayons according to the color of the flame of that element. We learned the color of Burnt Sienna and Aquamarine through Binney and Smith’s labeling; now children can learn about Florine gas and Mercuric Iodide the same way.
There are many apps, games and toys where children learn all the nuances through repetition; why not take the same principle to teach something more useful? Guitar Hero could use the actual chords and teach children how to read or play music. Angry Birds icons could be real birds and expose players to different species. What possibilities do you see to subtly infuse learning into play?