Why Play based learning?
Simply put, children (and adults) learn through play, developing the whole child holistically. Play based learning is a type of early childhood education based on child-led and open-ended play. This provides a framework for learning where children can organise and make sense of the world around them. It is a voluntary and enjoyable activity with no purpose or end goal. If you are thinking ‘mud kitchens’ or fantasy play or finger painting, you are on the right track.
Children engage in play on their own and explore different materials; they play with each other and use materials to represent other objects (symbolic play) which holds great value in developing imagination, cognitive skills and social competence.
One of the elements of play based learning is it encourages the development of language skills. By interacting with their peers they develop their vocabulary and comprehension skills. The context of play allows this to happen in a natural way and learning is amplified as it is enjoyable and relevant to the child’s interests.
Music and rhyme supports the development of pre-literacy skills such as listening skills and sound recognition, laying the foundations for reading and basic literacy. It also helps to develop their memorisation skills and their ability to differentiate sounds.
The development of social and emotional skills is crucial to the development and learning of a child. Engagement in play is closely associated to the development of these skills as children share social experiences and play co-operative games.
Think team work and cooperation, collaborative planning, expressing ideas. It develops a sense of belonging. Emotional competence and empathy are developed through play as they learn about feelings, emotions and motivation of others. Engaging in dramatized play demonstrates ways of caring and showing empathy. Fantasy play is a vehicle for a child to make sense of the world around them and to try to understand their emotions.
It fosters creativity and imagination, traits that are vital in the modern world. Using their imagination, they are able to problem solve and find solutions to a variety of problems. This in turn develops a natural curiosity and improved potential for learning in later life.
Imagination is all about symbols; laundry baskets become a car or a stick a sword and so on. Understanding symbols is key to reading and writing as letters are symbols. The same would apply to mathematical concepts and numbers. Playing in the mud kitchen or baking; imagine all the measuring and filling and emptying, too much or too little, how many, too thick or too thin, too big or too small and so on; Thus developing all the pre-maths skills. Basic scientific concepts are developed through play, for example, what happens when you stack block on top of another or balancing one side with the other to make it stand or what does the feather or a bird feel like or the shell of a tortoise.
Physical development refers to both fine and gross motor development and how a child uses their body. Through play children build physical strength, coordination, balance, position of their bodies in space, fine motor coordination and manipulation, hand eye coordination and foot eye coordination. Running, jumping, climbing, swinging, ball games and so on. They get a healthy amount of exercise.
Children are exposed to so many different tactile experiences through their play; The feeling of wood, sand, soft toys, water, paint and more. These sensory experiences are important for the development of the neural pathways and their sensory integration system. Art and play also include many sensory experiences. Creative activities which are process focused, have no rules to guide the children as there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to create thereby allowing them to express their ideas in a way they want to and they feel successful no matter what they make. During this process there is problem solving, sequential organising, logical thinking visual perceptual and many more skills being developed.
“A considerable amount of research in the field of play-based learning is indicative of the profound importance of play on the overall development of a child. Playing helps the brain develop cognitive abilities, establish new neural connections, and make us more intelligent in multiple aspects at once. It improves the ability to perceive others emotional states and adapt to ever changing circumstances”
It’s important that when a child gets to school they are comfortable in a school setting, comfortable engaging with other children and excited to learn. Emotional learning is as important, if not more, as academic skills learning. This is what they will acquire in a play-based program.