We often hear someone say: “Look at those children having such fun playing”, but the observation “Look at those children having such fun learning” is far less frequent.
Play is the universal language of childhood and encompasses many different types of activities that children do for fun and amusement. But play and learning are also inseparable.
Young children may look like they’re ‘just’ playing, but when you consider that through play, children develop many valuable life skills, you realise that there is no such thing as ‘just playing’.
With a growing body of research pointing to the long-term benefits of play-based learning, many childcare centres now focus their daily activities entirely on play-based learning. Here, children are allowed to be the discoverers and explorers, constructing, and directing their own learning according to what interests them while the educators act as facilitators and collaborators.
Instead of the more traditional education practices which involve teaching by instruction, prescribed outcomes and repetitive rote learning, play-based learning such as the Reggio Emilia approach is child-centred. Play drives discovery and the child’s experiences lead to deeper, more meaningful learning opportunities.
What is play-based learning?
Children are born with a natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge and play-based learning provides them with endless opportunities to engage with others, with objects and with their environment.
The beauty of play-based learning is that it supports learning in a developmentally appropriate way and doesn’t discriminate or deter participation based on the child’s ability or the pace at which they learn.
Play-based learning is a more natural approach to learning and while it may seem unstructured and unfocused to a casual observer, the reality is that it is the most effective way for young children to accrue many crucial skills.
So whether a child chooses to play with toys or other objects, participate in physical activities, colour, draw, sculpt or craft, play on their own or with others, engage in pretend play and role-play, construct or deconstruct something or dance and sing, by actively engaging with things that interest and inspire them, they’ll be more motivated to learn about the world around them.
How does play-based learning benefit children?
Promotes physical development. Active play and movement help children develop their gross motor skills, plus it builds their strength, improves their balance and helps boost their hand/eye co-ordination. Their fine motor skills also get a workout through activities like holding a crayon, cutting and threading.
Promotes cognitive development. Through play, kids develop their intellectual skills such as numeracy, problem-solving, critical thinking, planning and memory skills and retention of knowledge. Why does my tower of blocks keep falling down? How do I get the ball through the hoop? They learn about cause and effect and the consequences of their actions, which lay a strong foundation for their futures as critical-thinking, confident and well-rounded adults.
Encourages their language and communication skills. A child’s vocabulary and their oral skills will grow quickly when conversations are encouraged and when they’re doing things they enjoy.
It helps foster their imaginations. Play activities support a child’s innate creativity and curiosity, driving them to find solutions by using their imaginations.
It helps with the development of social and emotional skills. During play, children are exposed to important lifeskills such as negotiation, co-operation, taking turns, sharing, empathy and resilience. Play teaches them about relationships and how to resolve conflict. If you’ve ever watched a group of young children engaging in a make-believe game, you’ll quickly see how many opportunities there are for them to learn about themselves and about others!
It builds independence. When children are free to play on their own, they’re more likely to take responsibility for their actions.
It helps build a child’s confidence and self-esteem. Play isn’t results-orientated. There are no time pressures to finish an activity and no prescribed outcomes, so children are less likely to feel judged or inadequate. By doing things that they’ve chosen and that they love, they build up their confidence in their abilities and feel good about themselves.
A final word on play-based learning
Ultimately, every parent wants their child to have a happy and healthy educational experience.
Quality environments which encourage playful learning and discovery are proven to promote the child’s holistic development and to provide a solid foundation for success throughout the child’s life.
We’d love to show you our play-based learning environments at Evoke Childcare in Albert Park and Evoke Childcare in Clayton so you can make an informed decision about your little one’s future. So why not book a tour? We believe that our open-ended play and child-centred learning sets the foundation for children in our care to develop strong learner identities and empowers them to construct and enjoy opportunities to learn as they head towards school and beyond. We hope to meet you soon!