Queensland University of Technology Head of the School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education, Professor Ann Farrell says play based learning optimises the learning that is happening through play.
“Play based learning is paramount and those (early learning centres) that espouse to have a play based learning approach need to champion play because it is a definite advantage for children,” she says.
“Through play, children experience, problem solve, communicate and make sense of their world.
“We know play is very important to a child’s development. We have compelling evidence of the importance of play to children’s development”.
“Cognitive, physical, social and emotional skills and taking initiative are all skills developed when a child learns by doing, trial and error and experimentation,” she says.
With evidence to support the fact that babies in the womb are communicating and interacting with the world around us, it is no wonder that newborns, toddlers and young children crave opportunities to learn and test new skills, Professor Farrell says.
“Play starts from the moment the child is born (even before) and we do see it in newborns," she says.
“Newborns initiate conversations, they communicate and learn how to exert influence over their caregivers, so we know there is no starting age, it is always happening.
“It is an integral part of human relationships, newborns interact with their caregiver for food or a nappy change. They initiate the exchange and the adult responds.
“Learning through play is not necessarily formal but is part of everyday life and parents should be encouraged to respond to the child,” she says.
“Be mindful that learning through play is set within the cultural contexts and different forms of play may be valued by different cultures. “
Goodstart Early Learning Nursery Educator Danielle Flamia, says babies learn through experience and observation and rely on their senses as they explore their surroundings.
“Beyond their five senses babies also need to develop body awareness and balance, so we spend time on the floor with them - rolling, crawling, climbing and cruising – helping them to move independently and build their sensory systems,” she says.
“Play gives babies a reason to experiment, discover, explore and problem solve. Just like learners of all ages, as long as there is an interesting, engaging and fun question they will strive to find the answer.
“Infants are constantly asking questions to determine who they are and who they will grow up to be.”
Danielle said play based learning with babies is about finding the sweet spot that is both fun and challenging.
“It can be as simple as holding their favourite toy above them and using it to engage their hand eye coordination, crossing their midline and tempting them to roll over onto their side and tummy, all while singing, bopping and being with them in that moment,” she said.
Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty- when it comes to babies, the messier the better!