How is Play a Form of Learning?
Early learning centres tell you that they use a play-based approach to help children learn, develop and get ready for the big school. But what does a play-based approach mean and how does it contribute to learning and overall development?
Play as a form of learning
A play-based approach usually means there’s an emphasis on providing large blocks of time for children to play and explore. Those blocks of time might be guided and/or unstructured depending on the early learning centre’s curriculum.
It’s a form of learning because during playtime, children get to explore freely and pursue their interests. During that exploration, they get to use a wide variety of toys and objects and experiment in a safe environment. By themselves they can better learn cause-effect relationships and start to establish some form of self-reliance and independence.
Although play seems all fun, simple and exciting, it’s actually a complex activity that requires thinking, remembering, paying attention and decision making. Through play, they develop several cognitive skills such as problem solving and creativity. It’s also a great and natural opportunity for children to learn foundational concepts such as shapes, letters and numbers.
In other words, children get to learn naturally during playtime. In contrast to semi-passive approaches in traditional classrooms, play is an active form of learning that requires rich interactions with objects, other children and the immediate environment. These interactions and activities provide continuous feedback which is crucial in figuring how things work. This is crucial in helping children make sense of the world around them.
Encouraging learning through play
Now that we’ve recognised the importance of play in children’s development and learning, how do we encourage it and how can we help children gain the full benefits from play?
One way is to provide enough resources and materials for children to use and explore. This way, children will have more than enough options and they get to combine and experiment with several different objects. It’s also important to facilitate long hours of uninterrupted play so that children will have enough time to develop their ideas. That’s because children might take some time to warm up and feel comfortable in a new environment and in the presence of other children.
Play is a natural activity and children have a natural urge to play and explore. The role of parents and early learning centres is to encourage it and make sure that the environment is safe and with ample resources.