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Play based learning

Updated: Apr 25, 2019

While ‘play-based learning’seems to be the catch phrase in present day early childhood education, it is by no means a new concept.


Even in ancient civilizations, theorists such as Aristotle ‘understood the importance of children’s play and its relevance to later development’ (Shipley, 2008 p.22).

Many educational theorists have studied play over the millennia and each has presented their own take on play as a learning tool. The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) has been developed from many of these educational theorists and holds play as a central and important part of how young children learn.


Providing uninterrupted periods of time for play is vital to supporting children's development

While ‘play-based learning’seems to be the catch phrase in present day early childhood education, it is by no means a new concept.

Even in ancient civilizations, theorists such as Aristotle ‘understood the importance of children’s play and its relevance to later development’ (Shipley, 2008 p.22).


Many educational theorists have studied play over the millennia and each has presented their own take on play as a learning tool. The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) has been developed from many of these educational theorists and holds play as a central and important part of how young children learn.



"Even in ancient civilizations, theorists such as Aristotle ‘understood the importance of children’s play and its relevance to later development’ (Shipley, 2008 p.22)"

The EYLF sums this up in the concepts of “belonging, being and becoming’


Belonging:focus on a child’s development of a positive sense of self. This is best promoted through play experiences because there are no right or wrong ways to do things. This freedom from ‘rules’ helps children to feel confident and competent as learners.


Beingaffirms a child’s right to play and to enjoy their childhood without the pressure of conforming to narrow goals for learning which have been predetermined by an adult. Play provides opportunities for children to learn about themselves (their being) and others.


Becoming: reflects how this process of learning through play builds on children’s existing knowledge and helps them develop, learn and grow. It emphasizes learning to participate fully and actively in society (including social and emotional learning, best achieved through play).

(taken from Early Childhood Australia Research in Practice series ‘Learning and teaching through play’)


Children’s right to play

The legislation and frameworks surrounding early childhood education are based upon the principles of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNICEF, 1989), including a child’s right to play.


“I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand” - Author unknown

In play, children see the point of what they are doing and are thinking about stretching themselves to the limit of their abilities. This is often not the case when asked to complete an adult-directed task. Even the very young must feel in control of their play: when adults interfere too much it stops feeling like play to them’ (Pound, 2012).


When this happens, play looses its ability to nurture a child’s sense of agency (self-direction) and does not aid positive cognitive, social and emotional development.

Children engaged in true play experiences can concentrate for long periods of time at their self-chosen task (Pound, 2012). In this regard, play is incredibly important for laying the foundations of concentration, focus and applied knowledge vital for future academic success.


Play actively encourages:

Creativity, problem solving, social skill development, trial-and-error thinking, early mathematical and literacy development and a strong sense of emotional wellbeing, which is vital for positive brain development.


What about lining up and ‘group times’

Young children learn best in groups of 1+ their age. They are still learning about themselves in space and often struggle to sit so closely to many other children (arms and legs go everywhere!). Lining up provides many opportunities for crowd control and little for learning. We prefer to find other ways to help children achieve the self regulation required for sitting and standing. So you will likely see mat times and lining up kept to a minimum at KRCC.

What does a play-based program look like in action?

There is so much more to developing a quality play-based program than simply putting toys in a room.


As you look around our centre, take a moment to look a little deeper. You’ll notice:

  • Educators sharing the role of learning and teaching…sometimes we may be involved with play, other times we may be watching and evaluating learning

  • Educators understanding that children are great at teaching each other – in that case, you might see us standing back, offering just enough support to help children achieve an outcome themselves (eg solve a conflict, climb a tree, cross the monkey bars, stand and balance)

  • Experiences on offer reflect children’s interests and offer a great mix of open-ended experimentation, manipulation and make believe play opportunities. Experiences offer scalable options to suit different skill levels as relevant to the children within the group.

  • The program offers children lots of options for choice and self-direction. This is called ‘agency’ and ‘autonomy’ and is critical to good emotional wellbeing.

  • Equity over equality. Treating everyone equal is not fair. Play based practices enable children to reach the same outcome with support which is relevant to their individual needs.

References:

Kennedy, A., and Barblett, L. (2010). Early Childhood Australia Research in Practice Series: Learning and teaching through play;

Pound, L. (2012). How Children Learn : From Montessori to Vygosky – Educational Theories and Approaches Made Easy. Andrews UK: Luton, England. Retrieved from http://www.eblib.com

Shipley, D. (2008). Empowering Children: play based curriculum for lifelong learning. Nelson Eudcation Ltd: Tonronto, Canada.

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