Play Based Learning

Children are, by nature, born curious. They interact and discover the wonder around them. This type of play is a joyful and satisfying experience for children. Some Preschools and Primary Schools in our region have focussed their attention on this childhood strength and are utilising its power for learning. It is often now referred to as play-based learning and is defined by the Early Years Education Framework as “a context for learning through which children organise and make sense of their social worlds, as they actively engage with people, objects and representations”.

Play-based learning isn’t some sort of soft approach before the “real” learning begins. Play-based learning is well planned and supported by rich learning environments and specialist educators who pair literacy, numeracy and social skill development with a child’s curiosity and creativity.

Researcher, author and educator, Gayle Gregory, states that play-based learning “allows children to have hands-on or concrete experiences” and provides children with the opportunity to “discover the underlying rules and patterns that organise” the world around them. This is how “they make sense of the world.” She does also state that play-based learning helps “set up a filing system for the storage and retrieval of information”. More recent research conducted by Dr Karyn Purvis states that it “takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synaptic pathway in the brain, unless it is done with play, in which case, it takes between 10 – 20 repetitions”.

Develops Literacy Skills
In preschool play-based learning involves music and rhyme to develop pre-literacy skills such as listening skills and sound recognition. It also helps with memorisation skills. At school, play-based learning includes a print-rich environment. It will include the children’s own writing, posters, signs, labels and include directed and specific oral language designed to turn conversations into learning opportunities. It will also include communication boards that generate positive discussions with parents and their children about the experiences of the day.

Develops Numeracy Skills
Play-based numeracy skills development starts with pattern recognition using manipulatives. This also supports fine motor skill development. It then progresses to number recognition opportunities and counting within the context of a rich classroom environment. In school, this progresses to school shops and cafes (focussing on number development), and tinker tables with scales (to develop an understanding of measurement and space). The oral language component of numeracy is essential here. Play-based learning creates the opportunity for real-life learning with numeracy as a practical part of our lives. This increases student engagement and motivates learners.

Fosters Creativity and Emotional Skills
Creative or divergent thinking is commonplace in children under five however evidence clearly shows this declines throughout childhood within most schooling structures. Play-based learning is designed to foster creativity and imagination. It values exploration, self-initiative, risk-taking and develops the “have a go” mindset.

Engagement in play is also closely associated with the development of social and emotional skills. Playing cooperative games and circle games brings joy as children share these social experiences with friends. It also plays an important pedagogical role in developing a sense of belonging to a community. Without the feeling of connectedness, children will not be able to engage in learning.

With the right strategy, teacher training and environment, play-based learning allows your child the best start possible.

Nick Johnstone