Parents love to see their children play when they are babies, spending hours playing with them and seeing them develop. So why when they are ready to start their child’s learning journey at school, do parents fear that play-based learning is too fun and not rigorous enough?
Now the tide has started to turn as research is beginning to show that play-based learning can be more effective in preparing children to start formal schooling than more traditional methods.
But what does Play-based learning exactly mean? Does it also include Physical development? Does a stress free learning process help kids achieve long term skills?
Play-based learning harnesses the natural curiosity and sense of discovery of young children to enable them to explore their wider world.
Skilled teachers create play experiences that children are naturally drawn to and interested in, creating intentional opportunities to embed concepts such as maths, reading and writing in a context which is more relevant to each child as an individual.
For example, if a teacher intends to explore areas of maths and reading, they will do so in the context of the play the children are enjoying.
For some children this may involve reading and researching facts about their favorite animal, for others counting things they see on a nature walk, while others may explore counting through building with blocks or resources.
How does it compare to traditional teaching?
In a traditional model, the teacher and knowledge are prioritized in the learning process, while in a play-based environment, the children are at the heart of every activity and skills are developed alongside knowledge.
In the past acquiring a defined set of knowledge structured around established topics (such as history, maths, geography, etc.) was believed to be the key to unlocking success in adult life.
Now we know that knowledge alone is not enough, children need the problem solving and logical reasoning skills to keep up with a rapidly changing world. These skills can be achieved also through a play-based Physical development activity.
There is no longer a blueprint for success in life – children need the skills, versatility and perseverance to create their own.
What can it offer?
Research has suggested that child immersed in a well-run play-based environment can improve their development by up to 5 months more than peers in a non-play environment in just one academic year.
Studies have shown substantial benefits for both developmental and academic skills, creating students with enhanced problem solving, reasoning and communication skills. Play creates a brain that has increased “flexibility and improved potential for learning later in life” (Lester & Russell, 2008).
“Children who engage in quality play experiences are more likely to have well-developed memory skills, language development, and are able to regulate their behavior, leading to enhanced school adjustment and academic learning” (Bodrova & Leong). Academics have also highlighted the positive effects of the approach for children with social, educational or emotional difficulties.
Play is extremely important for brain development in young children. It’s believed that play shapes the structural design of the brain, and provides active exploration that helps in building and strengthening brain pathways, according to Lennie Barblett, Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Education and the Arts, Edith Cowan University.
What do parents need to know?
ENVIRONMENT: Teachers will need to put time, effort and thought into planning intentional play options to meet the needs of their students – luckily Pingu’s English has taken the stress out of this with our day-to-day lesson plans for both our International Kindergarten and Language Training programs.
Teachers will take an active role in creating a stimulating environment with the associated resources to ensure that children’s play is as productive as possible.
MAKING LEARNING VISIBLE: Just as the learning process puts children at the heart of the classroom, so does the assessment of their learning.
Children will regularly reflect on their own choices and give feedback, as will their parents.
A portfolio of learning will be created for each child including: writing, arts and crafts, photos, videos, and many other options, which will clearly demonstrate progression to a parent but will perhaps be different from traditional expectations.
THE ROLE OF TEACHERS: Teachers are never passive in the play-based learning classroom. They are facilitators, assessors, questioners and demonstrators – supporting and guiding children in their learning journeys, but not dictating how learning should take place. Highly skilled, trained and motivated teachers are essential to create an effective play-based environment, which continues to pose exciting challenges as students’ progress.