Play-based learning: Education That Lasts Through Play

Play-based learning has the power to stimulate and engage our children. Play allows them to experiment, explore and immerse themselves in activities in ways that other learning strategies do not. But what does it look like? 

Are there key elements of play that provide for a quality play-based experience? In this article, I will explain what play-based learning is, how it can benefit children, and what educators should consider when creating play-based experiences.

What is Play-Based Learning?

First, let’s talk about play, which is how children learn more than any other subject. Play isn’t sitting down and doing a worksheet.  Play is real live fun when your child is exploring a world all their own. A play-based curriculum lets your child be a child while they are getting the necessary building blocks of education.

Play-based learning is a theory of education in which play is used to motivate, facilitate, and structure children’s learning experiences. It is a social learning method that primarily uses play as a teaching method to aid the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development of children.

Takeaway: Play-based learning aims to help children learn through the way they learn naturally—by playing.

SEE: The Montessori learning process in s nutshell

How Does Play-Based Learning Work?

Play-based learning uses the most effective learning tool available…play. It is the best way to help children learn. Play is what children do every day, and they are more likely to be engaged if reinforcing activities are turned into games. 

It is a concept that teaches through play. In this mode, the student learns by doing and exploring. This means that students are not limited to desks and lectures for months on end. They are involved in a mixture of play-based learning and traditional schoolwork.

A study found that about 75% of children under 12 lack adequate playtime. Consequently, this affects their performance in the classroom, as they are unable to remain focused. Children have an innate ability to learn through play.

Play-based learning is a theory of education that is rooted in social constructionism, so it’s essentially a framework to help education professionals explore how play works and how they might use it to develop high-quality learning environments.

What are the Benefits of Play-Based Learning?

1. Play awakens and develops a child’s natural curiosity

All children learn best through play. Play-based learning uses play as a way of helping children learn and develop new skills while allowing the child to make sense of the world around them. A play-based approach to education allows children to explore at their own pace and naturally in a developmentally-appropriate way that reinforces early learning skills.

2. It motivates children to take action and become creative

In today’s fast-paced world, play is an important part of every child’s life. They try out new ideas, build their new toys, and learn various skills through play. 

Through the process of building their toys, they learn how to use tools and solve a problem by applying what they know. Play helps your kids discover that they have the power to solve problems in a fun, exciting environment.

SEE: Creative business ideas to turn your imagination into money

3. Play is great for social, emotional, and cognitive development

Play is purposeless. It’s an activity for the sake of doing something. The more you do it, the better you get at it, and the more fun you have. Research has shown that play promotes exploration and experimentation, which encourages children to ‘make sense of their world,’ and to develop social, emotional, and cognitive skills.

SEE: Cognitive learning

4. Play boosts your child’s self-esteem

Play-based learning is like doing things together, and it can be everything from cooking to playing sports. Play-based education is great for kids because: it develops their self-esteem, helps them to feel vital, and it creates confidence in a child.

5. It develops strong communication and motor skills

Play-based learning means that children explore certain topics through play. While they are experimenting and exploring, they are refining their fine motor skills, and at the same time learn to follow rules and take turns. Play is a great way to make sure that children develop strong communication and motor skills.

SEE: Why is communication important in a team?

What are the Essential Elements of Play-Based Learning? 

1. Play materials

Play materials are the essentials for play-based learning. The whole purpose is to learn through play, which will be more enjoyable if accompanied by play materials. Play materials can be anything specifically chosen and manipulated by a child. The materials can be simple, such as a stick, puzzle, or rock, or the materials can be technology-based, such as a computer or tablet.

2. A physically safe environment

We learn best when we are having fun, and play offers children an opportunity to explore their world and the people in it. As young children play, they develop problem-solving, negotiation, initiative, and creativity skills, as well as other important aspects of early learning. 

An essential element of play-based learning is a safe environment that provides for the basic needs of children.

3. Qualified teachers

This approach to early childhood education focuses on a curriculum of learning that is primarily built on play and exploration. It focuses on open-ended materials and opportunities for children to learn through play and exploration. Qualifies educators who are specialists in the early years, and understand the value of observation and listening to children, support these activities. 

SEE: Qualities of a good teacher

How Can Educators Get Started with Play-Based Learning in Schools?

1. Create a structure of supportive relationships

Educators need to create a supportive relationship with children and their families before introducing play-based learning to their students. Books, toys, equipment, and learning centers do not provide adequate support for children to play on their own. Only adults can create and sustain these essential relationships necessary for safe and challenging play.

2. Actively engage the children in play-based learning games

Play-based classroom activities encourage children to learn through social interaction with peers and educators, building on an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. Through these activities, students gain self-confidence and new skills while taking risks, making decisions, and solving problems on their own. 

3. Use observation to make an impact

A key task for educators is to make an impact on their students. Your observation can help you do just that. You first have to establish your area of focus, so that you can build up a picture of what your students are like in different contexts. This will help you identify children’s strengths, interests, and challenges through their everyday experiences.

4. Provide affordable, engaging toys

There are a few important things to consider when choosing toys for your play-based setting. Materials and manufacturing process, education or entertainment value, the lifespan of the toy, and cost will all play a role in the selection process. Educational toys can be valuable tools in the classroom, but don’t have to break the bank. 

5. Allow time for collaboration

Play helps children learn important skills such as problem-solving, curiosity, collaboration, and collaboration with others while working with their teachers. It isn’t enough to just play with your students. You’ll want to encourage kids to work together, share their ideas and experiences, and play collaboratively. 

SEE: Collaborative learning

6. Empower children to explore independently in safe settings  

At the core of play-based learning is the desire for children to take the lead in their learning (while still having guidance from teachers). 

It is important to empower children to explore independently within safe, guided settings, such as sand tables and open-ended art materials. By providing a stimulating and supportive environment, teachers can also help their students learn more effectively.

7. Find practical strategies for incorporating play into classroom activities

Your work is cut out for you. Support your efforts with practical ideas. Strategies include using large-group time wisely, using small-group time effectively, and using planning time wisely. 

By providing the right environment with the right strategy, children can learn more effectively, at a personal and emotional level. The most important thing is that play leads to interactions with people and materials, helping children develop crucial relationships, social skills, and communication skills. 

8. Gather resources on teaching play-based learning online and in-person

Gathering information and resources to help educators plan, implement, and sustain play-based learning in their schools can be overwhelming. There are several resources online and in-person that can be helpful to educators who want to implement play-based learning. 

These resources may include in-person workshops and professional development opportunities, books, and resources on play-based learning.

This list is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to highlight some of the resources I find most helpful in planning and implementing play-based learning in your schools.

SEE: Is online learning effective?

How Can Parents Choose the Ideal Play-Based Program for Their Kids?

Do you want your child to have an edge when it comes to school success? If that is the case, a play-based program could be exactly what the doctor ordered. Parents should understand that play isn’t just fun, it’s also important for the long-term development and education of their children. 

For this reason, it is important to find the right play-based learning program for them. Keep the following factors in mind while enrolling your child into a play-based program:

  • Get recommendations from your friends and other parents
  • Check out the teachers and administrators
  • Look at their facilities
  • Study the curriculum
  • Only choose a play-based program when it’s a full time
  • Ask how long the program lasts
  • Consider the school’s reputation

It is no coincidence that play-based education is growing in popularity. The benefits of play for children are numerous. It allows them to learn through their natural curiosity, creativity, and imagination. Kids learn best when they can choose their play topic and guide their play by their interests. 

Other factors come into play when choosing the ideal program for your child, such as payment plan, culture or environment of the school, etc. These, however, are all secondary to a child’s need for rich experiences that stimulate their natural curiosity and desire to be a part of a community of learners.

SEE: Importance of parental involvement in a child’s education

FAQs

Is play-based learning effective?

Yes, it is effective. This is because it helps take the stress out of the classroom and provides a creative space for children to view learning as something that encompasses both fun and education.

How does this type of learning differ from traditional education?

Play-based learning is one of the most powerful, natural ways for children to learn. Unlike traditional teaching, where formal lessons are taught from a textbook or worksheet and the teacher is passive in most ways, it begins with the child. It’s learning through exploration and experimentation, resulting from active involvement.

How do children learn through play?

In a nutshell, play learning is the act of self-directed exploration and discovery. The learning that happens through play is both social and physical, and it’s driven by intrinsic motivation to find out more about the world around us. 

It also encourages children to actively engage in developing their understanding of concepts as they participate in several engaging activities.

Who can implement play-based learning?

Nurseries and schools can choose to implement play-based learning using existing formal or informal settings in the classroom, outdoor areas, or both. Schools can also create a play-based preschool for children ages 2 and under. It provides children with a context for learning, intending to help them explore and learn through play.

Conclusion

Play is how we learn throughout life. Behind many adult behaviors and social situations are play-based learning strategies that were mastered during childhood. The end goal of the play is to facilitate a meaningful relationship, where children willingly and safely accept adults as someone they can trust, and who will be there to support and reinforce the learning process.

Throughout this article, I mentioned problem-solving at various points. I believe all teachers should possess these skills. Even though you may already know this or possess these skills, I encourage you to read the article on problem-solving skills as a quick refresher. You will find it helpful at work and in general.

Thanks for reading.