It is no secret that children love to play and it is no secret (many studies have described how a child can learn through play) that play is an important experience for young children in supporting their learning and development.
From the outside, when children are playing it might not look like much learning is happening, but surprisingly they are. When children play they are exploring many types of learning, including academic, social, emotional learning and gain the self-confidence needed to engage in new experiences and environments.
Learning is a natural outcome of play, however when these moments of play are facilitated by experienced educators, children can learn even more! Experienced educators can offer meaningful experiences for children to explore and connect with their interests. This might be through intentional teaching experiences, where a child?s interest will spark the topic to be explored through play. Using significant props are also ways educators will inspire children to play and learn about new topics and concepts.
The benefits for children learning through play are endless ? children will learn something new each time they play! Here are 5 of those endless benefits of play-based learning:
1.Make meaningful connections in their learning
Learning through play means children learn to love learning! We know children love to play, but they might not realise they also love learning. A good play space allows for learning in an interesting way, which means they will remember what it is they learned as it makes more sense to them and because they were able to relate to it.
When children are engaged in a play-experience and a new topic or idea is introduced to them, they will be more likely to make a meaningful connection to that learning. This is the idea behind interest-based learning. For example a child shows interest in doctors, because they went to the doctor on the weekend and the educator takes that moment of interest to explore in their play and develop further on the concept of doctors, or health awareness.
2. Increased confidence and sense of self
When children are playing they are carefree and aren?t focussed on how they might look or sound. This sense of freedom as they explore new concepts builds their self confidence that they take with them across their many years of learning. As children play they know they are in a safe place and ?when children feel safe, secure and supported they grow in confidence to explore and learn.
3.Explore new ways to communicate & increase language skills
The play-based setting provides opportunities for children to explore their vocabulary, exercise their imagination, and the different ways in which they can communicate their thoughts and ideas with their peers and teachers. In a meaningful play-based environment the children might be offered inspiration to encourage them in playing and learning about a new topic.
For example, an educator might have a play-area with toy animals and images of the real animals, and different types of animals e.g. farm animals, jungles animals etc. The children then could be inspired to learn about these animals and where they come from, what sounds they make and so on. Whilst the children have these play moments an educator could be present to help them when they don?t know the word for what they are trying to express. This way the children are increasing their vocabulary in a meaningful way which makes sense to them.
4.Exploration of social events & settings they see in their lives
It is very endearing when we see our children imitating us, perhaps by playing mummies and daddies with the baby dolls, or pretend shopping for groceries.? This is classic behaviour of children in trying to make sense of what they have seen, but doing it in a way that is comfortable, familiar and safe to them, and on their own terms. In the early childhood setting the environment and props are used to encourage children to make connections and make sense of these new or familiar experiences.
5.Builds on social and emotional skills
The play-based environment gives children the time and space to explore their emotions, and how they can react to certain events. For example, learning how to manage a friend taking a toy from them. While playing, they learn about social skills, turn taking, sharing, and also learn what the accepted behaviours are. Educators might create play-spaces where children are encouraged to engage in group play, and where they have to use their social skills to be respectful and understanding.
All of this learning is done in a fun and engaging context, where children feel free and safe to explore and develop these emotions and skills. We should never underestimate the amazing benefits of play with our children.