The play-based learning approach is led by the child but supported by parents, teachers and educators who recognise ‘teachable moments’ while the child is playing, or by carefully planning play experiences that open up opportunities for learning.
When children engage in play, they are more motivated to learn and develop positive feelings towards learning. By drawing on their natural desires, play-based learning is perfect for toddlers, says Emily.
As an experienced educator, Emily was recently able to identify a prime opportunity for play-based learning with a toddler in her room with emerging language skills, when he demonstrated an interest in cubby houses.
“We supported his interest in cubbies by introducing the materials to construct a larger cubby so that other children were able to be involved in the experience,” she said.
This simple and common play experience packs in a lot of learning, which when we take a step back and observe really shows us the rich value of play-based learning.
Not only was the child having fun and therefore more likely to engage in a similar experience again, there was also several skills and competencies being developed like language skills and social skills while negotiating with the other children, and problem solving skills both when building the cubby house and when deciding how to take turns to play in it.
Within an early learning context, Queensland University of Technology Head of the School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education Professor Ann Farrell says play based learning involves skilled educators to optimise 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. “
It’s easy to extend your toddler’s learning opportunities at home. You’re really only limited by your own imagination.
If you’re both having fun and are engaged in what you’re doing, you’re probably doing it right!