Learning through Play

As parents, we often think that play is just play. But as an educator, we see play as so much more than just fun. In fact, research and evidence has proven that varying types of play is vital for our child’s learning and development in their early years.

Children have an enormous learning potential and it is up to us as parents, and educators, to tap into that potential. Children are naturally curious. They want to know about the world around them; the what, how and why (we’re sure you’ve all experienced a why from your child once or a million times). Children absorb information by watching, listening, moving, talking, feeling, exploring and questioning; and by interacting with other people, children, animals, objects and indoor and outdoor spaces. It is within these interactions, and those we have with our children on a daily basis, that helps create a positive and natural learning environment for them to thrive in.

So, what is play and how will this help your child?

Play takes many forms and is important for a children’s agency to control the experience.

“Agency refers to children’s initiative, decision making and self choice in play.”

Play should enable children to take on an active role and ownership of their experience and we as educators/parents should recognise and trust our children to be capable, autonomous and agents of their own playful learning journey. When children engage in play, they are more motivated to learn and therefore develop positive feelings towards learning. So, by drawing on their natural desires, play-based learning is perfect for young children.

Simple games such as peek-a-boo, shaking a rattle or singing a song are much more important than just a way to pass the time. They teach young children about communication, develop their motor skills and help with problem-solving. Something as easy as stacking and knocking over blocks, for example, allows toddlers to discover maths and science concepts, including shapes, gravity, balance and counting.

How to help your child learn from play

Here are a few examples of the many skills that children learn through play:

  1. Learn from trial and error, using imagination and problem-solving skills e.g. “Why did my tower fall down? I’ll ask my friend to help me”
  2. Learn how to make a plan and follow through e.g. “ I want to draw picture of my family. Who will I put in my picture?”
  3. Apply concepts of quantity, science and movement e.g.” how can I make my boat float?” “How many pieces of pasta will I need to cover my picture?”
  4. Reason in a logical, analytical manner e.g. “ Which pieces will I need to complete this puzzle?” “How many nails will I need to keep these two pieces of wood together?”
  5. Develop creativity e.g. “I wonder what will happen when I mix these colours together?”
  6. Communicate with peers and negotiate differences e.g when playing in home corner. “I want to be the shopkeeper. Could you be the customer?”

How does play support your child’s development and learning?

Physical development – active play using large and small muscles such as climbing, running, ball games, digging, jumping, and dancing. This supports children’s overall health and sense of wellbeing, physical growth, appreciation for the benefits of active lifestyles and skills for independence in self-help such as dressing or feeding.

Social and emotional development – dramatic and imaginative play which includes dressing up and role play can develop positive social and emotional skills and values. This provides opportunities for children to:

  • practise how to work with other children, negotiate ideas, and make choices and decisions
  • develop self-confidence by experiencing success and challenges
  • learn to control their emotions, reduce impulsive behaviour, or reduce stress as they act out feelings and events that might be worrying them
  • develop empathy and fairness as they learn to play alongside and with other children.

Cognitive development – when your child plays individually, and with others, their cognitive skills, such as thinking, remembering, learning and paying attention are all being developed. Children develop the following cognitive skills through play:

  • problem solving
  • the power of imagination and creativity
  • concepts such as shapes, colours, measurement, counting and letter recognition
  • strengths such as concentration, persistence and resilience.

Literacy and numeracy development – play requires thinking, language, interactions, curiosity and exploration. Through play children develop skills and understandings including:

  • an increased understanding of words and their use
  • listening and speaking skills
  • writing skills through scribbling, painting and drawing
  • learning how stories work (plot, characters, structure, purpose and format of words on a page)
  • learning that objects can stand for something else (a block can be a symbol for a telephone) which is foundation learning for formal reading, spelling and numeracy because letters, words or numerals are part of symbol systems.
  • learning that letters, words, symbols, numerals and signs have a purpose and are meaningful to others.”

(Refer to Starting Blocks.gov.au)

How do our Educators provide learning through a play-based program?

At First Steps, our educators plan programmes to meet the individual interests and needs of each child. They do this by providing a wide range of play-based experiences in an open learning environment, where children can move freely between the indoor and outdoor spaces. Our educators generally use different teaching strategies to support children to develop a love of learning, to be curious, inquisitive, and interested in their world and the people they meet.

Indoor and outdoor play experiences you would expect to see would include: drawing, cutting and pasting with scissors and glue, jigsaw puzzles, playing with playdough, messy play, construction with different materials, use of recycled material, pretend play in the home corner and other areas in the classroom, pretend play in the sand pit, dramatic play, dressing up, puppets painting, hammering, dancing, singing, climbing, jumping ,running, skipping, listening to stories, imaginative play, reading books, water play, gardening, cooking; just to name a few.

Children will sometimes play alone, play with one or two other children or play in a group.  Play can be noisy or quite passive; both are equally important.

First Steps’ programmes allow children to play for extended periods of time without interruption and links their learning experiences to key learning areas or outcomes. Our educators use a range of teaching methods, including: directed activities such as music, stories and discussions but for a large part of the day we allow our children to make decisions themselves about where they will play, who they will play with and how long they will spend on a particular play activity. It is the responsibility of our educators to listen to and assess the needs of their children and to provide inviting spaces within the classroom to meet those needs and extend their learning.

Wherever the children decide to play there will be rules that will help them to learn behaviours that will be acceptable to others. Rules that:

  • help children stay safe.
  • care for and make them responsible for the equipment they play on/with.
  • support fairness and equity.

We involve our children in helping to make and set these rules to help their thinking and problem-solving skills, communication and social skills.

Whilst at our centre, your children are constantly growing and learning through play and we love nothing more than seeing them thrive. We are always excited to hear of your child’s new developments that occur outside of the centre, so please feel free to share these with the educators in your child’s room.

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