18 January, 2024

The Joy of Play-Based Learning: Unleashing the Power of Play

Early learning centre

Even as adults, we’re aware of the joy of play. It doesn’t matter if it’s a much-loved hobby, an occasional recreational activity or taking part in for-fun sports, play is an essential component of human life.

For children though, play is potentially so much more important. That’s because as they play, they learn. That’s something that educationalists try to capitalise on by unleashing the power of play as a learning experience in what’s sometimes called an Early Learning Centre.

Play-based learning – it is natural

If you have ever watched feline cubs playing with each other, you’ll often see seemingly play-based behaviours they enjoy immensely. However, it’s also clear that by instinct they’re also using that rough-and-tumble play to practise using their instinctive hunting and fighting behaviours.

The extent to which human children at play are directly comparable is hotly debated but it is indisputable that childhood play forms an essential part of cognitive development and socialisation.

Children learn both passively and actively. Passive learning is usually associated with a child listening to an adult reading a story from a book, watching a teacher draw on a board or watching a video. As such, while doing so, they will have the opportunity to learn by remembering things. Examples might include how to pronounce certain words or perhaps ‘facts’, such as that a picture shows a type of animal called a “lion”.

A very different type of learning is that which is participatory and experiential. In other words, ‘learning by doing’.

True, you can ask children to remember through raw facts and pictures that building a tower of plastic bricks will be easier if they put the biggest blocks at the bottom rather than on the top but the lesson may be far more meaningful and better retained if they discover that themselves by participating in play involving building towers.

When does play become a recognisable lesson?

Very quickly and via processes that are not well understood, children start to differentiate between being asked (or expected) to “learn things” and play.
This is sometimes described as being as simple as them being given a choice. In that model, if they’re placed in a passive learning environment where there is little or no element of choice involved in their participation, they start to think of that as a “lesson”.

Not all children react to this in the same way. Some will respond well to a lesson-based environment, particularly if the subject matter appeals to them. However, there is evidence that for many preschool children, lessons are less effective as a learning experience due to their typically limited attention spans and as a consequence, their retention skills are better activated by play-based learning paradigms in a specialist Early Learning Centre.

Unleashing the power of play in daycare centres

In professional daycare centres offering Early Learning Centre services, in reality, a mixture of both will be applied.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to draw children’s attention to something and ask them to remember a fact about it. To show a picture of a star, circle and square and tell children the name of each shape, is a form of lesson because they’re being taught something.

However, many childcare centres that practise play-based learning structures will concentrate their efforts on designing games and play activities where children will learn as they participate. The example of building towers above would be one such and it helps children to learn about structure, form, gravity and even some basic principles of what they’ll later call geometry.

Above all, play-based learning also often involves cooperative activities, such as if they’re working together to build those brick towers. The interpersonal skills they’re developing while doing so cannot be replicated through any form of ‘lesson’ and learning facts.

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