What Is Play Based Learning In Early Childhood Development

What Is Play Based Learning In Early Childhood Development

mother child cooking in kitchen

Play based learning is essentially learning through play. Instead of structured lessons or classroom-style teaching, it encourages children aged 0 to 5 to learn important social, literacy and numeracy skills through playful experiences.

Many notable early years framework such as Montessori and Reggio Emilia are built upon the concept of play based learning. They aim to establish learning as a fluid, natural part of everyday play, rather than being a structured process.

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Play based learning philosophy

The foundation of play based learning is built upon a children’s natural curiosity and play interests. Although it begins with the purpose of teaching, it is carefully planned around a child’s interests so that they are learning in an enjoyable way.

The “learning” element is weaved into the various types of play that they participate in.

The key idea is to actively engage our little ones in play through touch (sensory play), physical movement, listening, observation and experimentation. These are activities that they are naturally drawn to and is a far more effective learning process.

The important criteria for effective play based learning are:

  • It must be interesting and enjoyable
  • It focuses on the process rather than an endpoint
  • It is spontaneous and voluntary
  • It actively engages the child
  • It involves creativity or imagination

Examples of play based learning

Since play based learning is an extension of play itself, there are many examples that are derived from a child’s natural play tendencies.

Here are some easy play ideas that can be done at home with minimal setup and cleaning up afterwards.

Building blocks/puzzles

This type of problem-solving play is perfect for teaching numeracy and developing critical thinking. Open-ended playsets such as Duplo blocks, wooden blocks, or balancing blocks, encourage young learners to be creative problem solvers.

Puzzles are more close-ended as they usually have one definitive endpoint, i.e. when the puzzles are solved. However, logic puzzles can be highly engaging for kids and develops their ability to stay focused on a single task.

For the best of both worlds, our S.T.E.M Stacking Shapes combines the versatility of balancing blocks and the challenge that comes with puzzles. The pieces can be used in free play, but it also includes a booklet with various challenges to complete for preschoolers.

montessori stacking shapes balancing blocks
Our Balancing Blocks are designed for early years S.T.E.M play

marble run building blocks for Duplo
The Candy Marble Run is compatible with all Duplo blocks

Crafts/sensory play

Origami for kids, cutting paper, colouring, water play are some examples of sensory play as they involve touch. This kind of play helps develop fine motor skills in little ones and is the perfect way to teach literacy and numeracy.

These Alphabet Pebbles are engraved to provide a sensory experience and can be used in many fun ways to teach letter recognition. You can use it for a treasure hunt game, memory game, or even counting.

alphabet letter pebbles for early year learning literacy
Alphabet Pebbles by Yellow Door

Hands-on experiences

Also known as everyday play, this type of play-based learning teaches important life skills through day-to-day experiences alongside an adult. Cooking, gardening, washing dishes, vacuuming – these are all household activities that young children love to “help” with.

The sense of involvement and being “grown up” gives them great satisfaction and makes learning incredibly fun.

To better facilitate household play, you may want to consider getting child-friendly equipment or mini-sized tools, like their own gardening gloves and spade, or a little makeshift sink like our Carry-Play™ that can be used for water, sand and mud play.

Carry-Play portable Montessori activity table
Carry-Play™ – the portable Montessori activity table

Pretend play/make-believe

Last but not least, dress-ups, building pillow forts, reenacting their favourite shows… these are all great examples of play-based learning with dramatic play.

Pretend play is a good way to teach social skills, as you can easily embed important values – sharing, respecting others, being kind etc – into the play itself. As imaginative play usually requires more than one person to initiate and progress, it is by nature social play that nurtures good communication skills.


Play based learning benefits

There are good reasons why “play” has become the main element of early years learning around the world. Not only does it keep young children engaged and focused for longer, it excites them about learning.

Physical benefits of play

Active playing helps develop gross motor skills, hand-eye coordination, balance, and also spatial awareness.

It is also an important early childhood process that helps children explore their physical capabilities and understand basic physics like gravity and inertia.

Additionally, physical play burns up our kids’ abundance of energy and that naturally leads to better eating and sleeping habits. This sets the foundation of a lifelong habit of healthy living.

Cognitive benefits of play

Cognitive thinking is the ability to process thoughts, understanding (knowledge), retain information, and problem-solve accordingly.

Through exploration and experimentation in play, children are constantly observing and processing new information. For instance, playing with a set of building blocks, they might investigate new ways to build bigger and more complex structures based on what they have previously tried.

Social benefits of play

Cooperative play such as tag, hide and seek etc. are critical to the development of social skills like communication, negotiation, self awareness, empathy, and most importantly form healthy relationships.

When learning takes place through group play and involves others, kids are essentially learning how to be part of something bigger than themselves.

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