It is difficult to separate learning from play in childhood. Play is an avenue for children to learn and develop as they climb, build, paint, sing and dress up. This is why play-based learning in early childhood education is so valuable.
An early childhood educator’s role is to provide children with an environment that inspires them to play. Maths Is All Around You is a perfect example of this. It shows educators how a learning-through-play curriculum can foster early maths understanding.
Likewise, as educators observe children at play, they can show them what they are learning or have learnt. You’re Telling the Story is a great demonstration of this.
Browse our selection of play-based learning resources. You will discover play-based activities for toddlers that bring adventure, exploration, interaction and plenty of fun!
Play-based learning, simply, is to learn while at play. As described by Pyle (2018), “Play-based learning is a pedagogical approach that emphasises the use of play in promoting multiple areas of children’s development and learning.” These include social, emotional and physical development.
Play-based learning allows for different types of play, which are best viewed as a continuum.
At one end of the continuum is child-directed play, or free play. This is characterised as spontaneous play freely chosen by the child. There is little adult involvement or interaction.
At the other end is adult-led play. This is play that is organised and directed by an adult. There may be instructions but it remains open-ended.
Play-based learning activities provide opportunities for children to learn as they explore, create, improvise and imagine.
It is hard to pinpoint what play-based learning looks like. You could see children climbing trees and other structures or drawing a treasure map.
However, there are some characteristics of play in early childhood education to look out for. One of our play-based learning resources, Adventurous Play, says learning through play involves:
As a parent or an educator, look for indoor and outdoor areas, time for uninterrupted play and a selection of spaces and materials.
The simple answer – yes, play-based learning is effective.
Research concludes that play is a “powerful learning mode” (Hargraves, 2019). It enables children to create meaning and make sense of the world.
Learning through play supports language development, memory skills and behavioural regulation, which leads to better academic learning. It also supports social and emotional development as children negotiate conflicts, make play plans and compromise to be part of play with others.
Play-based learning also supports gross and fine motor development as children run, jump, climb, twist, tumble and manipulate small and large objects.
However, it is important to note that evidence for play-based learning is inconsistent due to difficulties in replicating studies. There are contrasting definitions of play and the different types that make it difficult to compare studies. Additionally, it is hard to separate the effectiveness of play on learning from outside influences such as the environment and adult involvement.