There’s more to play than meets the eye.
Play is the cornerstone of learning in early childhood education, and for good reason.
Years of research and evidence all point to one thing, and that is that children learn naturally, and best, through play. Play is how children make sense of the world, fulfil their natural curiosity, test, trial, experiment and hypothesise.
And because play is fun, it keeps them coming back for more. You can think of it as nature’s way of ensuring we develop the foundations of the skills we need for adult life at a time when the young and rapidly developing brain is ripe for learning.
This is what makes play-based learning such a significant feature of the Early Years Learning Framework, or EYLF. The EYLF is Australia’s government approved roadmap for early education, guiding all early learning providers to ensure children get the very best outcomes.
So what can children actually learn from play?
To understand the depth of learning that play facilitates, we’ll look at an example of a typical play scenario and see exactly what learning is going on when we peel back some layers.
Imagine your children are role-playing something they see you doing all the time, like grocery shopping. What are some of the skills they could learn playing this simple game?
- Negotiation and cooperation – when deciding who will play what role, and the direction the game is heading in.
- Social-emotional skills – by having empathy for the needs of others in the game, and coping with disappointment should the game move in a new direction or change suddenly.
- Creativity, engineering and motor skills – by dressing up in character, and designing and building the play environment.
- Dramatic play – by acting out their roles and engaging with other characters in the game.
As you can see, there is plenty of learning occurring naturally, with children just being children. But the learning doesn’t have to end there, thanks to the skill and guidance of our teachers.
The difference a great teacher can make
So how could a skilled teacher add to what the children are already learning in this game?
Well, play-based learning is all about letting the child lead and using their interests to drive their curiosity, exploration, and learning. Often, a teacher’s input will be minimal for this very reason, but small amounts of guidance from a skilled teacher can make a big difference.
Through prompting and providing the right resources, a teacher could build on the learnings through:
- Language and literacy – planning and writing a shopping list using letters and symbols.
- Numeracy – by incorporating a check-out and using play money or other objects as currency.
- Cognitive skills – by planning a meal, reading a recipe and checking the items are on the shopping list.
- Science and technology – by discussing why the check-out scanner makes a ‘beep’ sound, and what the scanner tells the computer.
Just one simple game, and at least eleven vital skills for school-readiness being developed.