Play based learning
While research on brain development is in its infancy, it is believed that play shapes the structural design of the brain. We know that secure attachments and stimulation are significant aspects of brain development; play provides active exploration that assists in building and strengthening brain pathways. Play creates a brain that has increased ‘flexibility and improved potential for learning later in life’
(Lester & Russell, 2008, p. 9, via Early Childhood Australia).
More about brain development in the early years - utero to age 5.
Play and brain development
I hear and I forget
I see and I may remember
I do and I understand
Children learn best through play. It draws on their natural curiosity and innate drive to learn through hands-on exploration of the world around them...to understand by doing.
Play provides children the space to explore, discover, wonder, be creative, draw their own conclusions, take risks, create meaning, hypothesise, problem solve, experiment, negotiate, use trial-and-error thinking....the list goes on.
All these outcomes are key foundations for life long learning and the vital building blocks for more formal learning at school.
The intellectual and cognitive benefits of play are well documented. Children who engage in quality play experiences are more likely to have well-developed memory skills, language development, and are able to regulate their behaviour, leading to enhanced school adjustment and academic learning (Bodrova & Leong, 2005).
While 'play' may sound easy and simple, high quality play-based learning takes a skilled educator who has a solid understanding of each child's interests, strengths and developmental needs.
A great article from Early Childhood Australia "why play based learning" can be found here.
So what does 'play' look like?
Unlike traditional 'chalk and talk' style lessons, in a play based environment, educators embed different elements of learning such as numeracy and literacy throughout the various experiences on offer in any program.
Educators pay close attention to the children to understand their interests, strengths and developmental needs and carefully and intentionally plan play based experiences around these interests, strengths and needs. We base the experiences on children's interests intentionally. You see, very young children are 'ego centric' - that means they love doing what they love. Through interest -led play, 3 year old children can expand their attention out to blocks of over 1 hour, whereas the typical attention span for adult-lead 'chalk and talk' style instruction is 9 minutes.
We also consider the wellbeing and development of the whole child - their physical and emotional self. So in a play based environment, you may see 'fun' activities such as clay, play dough, shaving foam, finger painting, construction (lego, duplo) mud and sand constantly on offer. A skilled educator knows that these resources do wonders for building sensory-motor dexterity (strength and coordination in the fingers, hands and arms) and will embed elements of literacy and numeracy throughout these activities through conversations with the children involved, props offered, songs sung or storied told.
The link between physical movement and learning
Physical movement is critical to building vital left-to-right side brain connections and skills such as spatial awareness which in turn are necessary foundations for literacy and numeracy.
Take the letters 'b' and 'd' for example. Both are made up of a circle and a stick, only the stick is on either side of the circle. For a child to eventually learn how to write 'b' and 'd' correctly, they must first begin from a sensory-motor perspective...that is, moving their bodies.
Children learn first by moving their bodies in space - up, down, left, right, upside down, over, under, round and through. Only once they have mastered this, do they begin to understand the concept of lefts and rights and therefore what side of the circle to place the stick when writing 'b', 'd' and indeed 'p' and 'q'.
The paradox of sitting still in preschool (kindergarten) - this is a wonderful article explaining the links between movement and learning.