What Is Play-Based Learning?

What is Play Based Learning?

Healthy play helps kids develop socially, emotionally and physically. Children can make new discoveries and try problem-solving skills as they play alongside their friends. Whether inside or outside, kids can find opportunities for play anywhere with creativity and excitement. As a teacher, parent or childcare provider, you’re always looking for fun new ways for children to play.

Many schools and academic centers are turning to play-based learning methods alongside typical educational strategies. While some classrooms use teacher-led plans, play-based learning allows children to choose activities based on their interests. Learning that centers around play has many social, cognitive and creative benefits for kids.

What Is Play-Based Learning?

Play-based learning is a child-centered strategy for learning facilitation. In this method, kids choose their activities for the day. They use their own interests and curiosities to discover new concepts. It essentially gives children more control over their learning and creates more opportunities to practice creativity and individuality.

Play is a free activity, not assigned or governed by adults. There is also no set goal or ending for play. Instead, kids act on instinct and explore based on what makes them curious or happy. Play-based learning acts on these concepts and encourages open-ended, innovative discoveries.

A play-centered classroom could be divided into different stations or sections, and the teacher gives the kids the ability to choose what activity they’d like to do. For example, a teacher could design a reading table, an art table, a drama area and a space for blocks and building. When kids enter the classroom for the day, they can select the area that seems most interesting to them.

The teacher facilitates learning by asking thought-provoking questions as they play and keeping them on task. When the student feels like it’s time to move on, they can do so at their own pace.

The Elements of Play-Based Learning

There aren’t any official rules for how to facilitate play-centric learning. But, you should strive to incorporate these elements if you want to introduce a play-based learning plan:

  • Individuality: One of the most important aspects of play-based strategies is that children can choose the activity. They can follow their interests and curiosities rather than a standard plan. They can also decide how long they want to engage with the activity before moving on to another one.
  • Imagination: Make-believe play facilitates cognitive and social growth. The more opportunities kids have to express their imagination, the better. Play-based learning should encourage children to express themselves freely.
  • Limited structure: There shouldn’t be any rules or guidelines during this type of learning. Kids get to progress at their own pace and complete activities when they choose.
  • Process: Instead of focusing on a goal or specific outcome, play-centered learning centers more on the process of play. It inspires children to love the learning process as they make their own discoveries.
  • Fun: Above all, play-based learning for kids should be fun. This helps them associate school and learning with enjoyment rather than frustration.

Play-Based vs. Academic Learning

Play-based learning is a more child-centric method.

Most preschools and elementary schools use play- or academic-centered learning approaches. While both are effective, play-based learning is a more child-centric method. In contrast, academic-based programs are entirely teacher-led. The teacher plans lessons and implements them according to state standards or other guidelines.

Educational-based programs typically focus on:

  • Learning letters and numbers
  • Identifying shapes and colors
  • Basic handwriting skills
  • Simple math problems
  • Beginner-level science knowledge

Teaching these types of skills requires more preparation from the teacher. Students follow along with the teacher’s lesson plans and complete worksheets or activities as instructed.

However, learning programs don’t have to use only one strategy. Some schools might use both play and academic learning throughout the day. For example, a teacher might conduct a lesson on handwriting in the morning and have children fill out a worksheet for practice. Then, they allow time for unstructured learning in the afternoon. They might even combine the two learning methods and have kids identify shapes and colors on the playground.

The Benefits of Play-Based Learning

There are many advantages to implementing student play-based learning, such as:

  • Higher interest levels: Having a teacher-led classroom often makes students lose interest. They don’t feel in control of their learning and might lose focus easily during the lesson. With play-based learning, kids can use their interests to learn. Kids are much less likely to become bored because they are allowed to follow their instincts and curiosities.
  • Social skill development: Play-based learning gives kids more opportunities to meet like-minded friends. Children with similar interests will probably select the same area to play in, and they can bond over their shared passions. And, kids are more likely to express themselves freely in play-based atmospheres. This freedom could help them to develop strong communication skills.
  • Positivity: Kids will feel more positively about learning when they have a say in it. This enthusiasm could continue with them as they progress through school.
  • Creativity: There are no limits on a child’s imagination with a play-centric approach. They can design their activities and decide how they would like to spend the day. This benefit encourages them to use creativity daily.

How Does Play-Based Learning Support Child Development?

Child development consists of the physiological, biological and psychological changes that occur as a child grows. Healthy early development is crucial for a child’s overall well-being. The way kids are treated and their environment can have an enormous impact on the person they become.

Giving kids enough opportunities to play freely, such as at recess, has countless social and cognitive benefits. They can explore the world around them and face new challenges while in a monitored environment. All the while, playing gives opportunities for physical activity and social interaction.

Play-based learning lets kids experience these developmental benefits during lessons. Instead of just restricting play to the playground, children can use play throughout the day as they explore their environment in and out of the classroom. Here are more ways that play-centric learning helps with various aspects of childhood development.

Social-Emotional Development

Social-Emotional Development

Social-emotional development refers to a child’s growing ability to regulate emotions and make personal connections with others. As kids grow, they become aware of other people’s emotions. They also begin to understand their own feelings and what they mean. For instance, they could realize when they feel like crying, this means they feel sad.

Play-based learning plays a crucial role in social-emotional development because it allows children to interact closely with others. They can form friendships while playing games or completing activities with others. In turn, kids learn critical emotional skills like patience, empathy and kindness. A play-centric program gives kids many chances to further these skills during the school day.

These are other ways that play-based learning aids social-emotional growth:

  • Making friendships: Learning to make friends is one of the most important lessons of childhood. Friendships give kids a stronger sense of self and more confidence. Play-centric areas allow children to communicate with others and bond over shared interests. As they form friendships, kids start to understand the importance of sharing experiences and emotions together.
  • Learning cooperation: Play-based learning also helps children learn to share and cooperate. They can work together to solve a problem, take turns or build something new. Understanding the value of teamwork will prepare them to work with others in the future. And, the skill of cooperation is important for emotional regulation and growth.
  • Practicing empathy: Play-based learning teaches the invaluable skill of empathy. Through pretend play, kids can act like other people and experience how they might feel or think. They can use this to understand that others have emotions just like them.

Cognitive Development

Play-centered learning also has many benefits for cognitive development. This type of development involves:

  • Processing information
  • Learning languages
  • Solving problems
  • Interpreting sensations

Overall, cognitive development is the process of healthy brain growth and developing intellectual skills. As kids play, they challenge their brains and think about concepts in new ways. Whether they solve a puzzle or figure out a new way to stack blocks, these activities engage their minds and challenge them to think deeply.

Play-based learning assists with cognitive functioning in many ways, such as:

  • Understanding letters and symbols: As kids draw or create art, they begin to comprehend symbols and letters. They might add their name to a drawing or learn to spell their friend’s name, too. Understanding that letters symbolize sounds is an essential concept for brain development. This comprehension could help them understand mathematical symbols later on.
  • Learning word meanings: Play can also help kids understand the meaning of words. As they try new activities, they could learn new phrases and start to use them in their daily lives. Speaking with other kids also helps them practice language in new settings.
  • Practicing math or science skills: Play-centered learning lets kids explore their environment freely. They might pick up on basic scientific concepts like plant growth or animal behavior as they discover. Or, they could use toys like blocks to count and start using math. These are natural ways to start scientific comprehension, which could encourage an early interest in these concepts.

Physical Development

Lastly, play has a significant role in a child’s physical development. This process involves bodily growth and the establishment of motor skills. Physical play helps kids build endurance and strength. Through exercise and other physical activities, kids can enhance their abilities and senses. And, with play-centric learning programs, you can implement physical development throughout the day rather than just at recess or gym class.

These are other ways that play-based learning helps with physical development:

  • Building muscle and coordination
  • Encouraging an active lifestyle
  • Exposing kids to tactile sensory experiences

How Teachers and Parents Can Promote Play-Based Learning

How Teachers and Parents Can Promote Play-Based Learning

As teachers and parents, you play an integral role in a child’s development. There are many ways you can assist with play-based learning approaches. By encouraging play, you can teach kids to express themselves healthily and without restraint.

Teachers can act as facilitators during play-centric learning. While kids get to decide on the activities, teachers can still help them and ask important questions that help with development. Parents can also help with play by joining in, cheering their child on or helping them when needed.

There are lots of other ways that teachers, parents and caregivers can help play-based learning, like:

  • Creating rich sensory environments: The most beneficial play areas have opportunities for engaging all the senses. Try to create a space where kids can practice their visual, emotional, physical and creative skills. For instance, you could add an art table for creativity and visual development while also offering time on the playground for physical development.
  • Increasing play time: Another way to facilitate play-based learning is by giving kids more opportunities to play. Allow children to play on their terms and try not to set strict rules about when play should end.
  • Encouraging a child’s interests: Show children how much you care while they play. Listen to them attentively if they want to explain a process to you, and show appreciation for their interests. This engagement teaches children that their interests are valuable and that exploring through play is good.

The Importance of Playgrounds for Play-Based Learning

Playgrounds are excellent spaces for children to play freely. Kids can test their physical abilities on the equipment, communicate with friends and have as much fun as possible in these play spaces.

Schools can implement playgrounds that encourage learning during recess. You can select playground equipment with opportunities for cooperative play, problem solving and innovation. These pieces will keep kids in a play-based mindset when they leave the classroom.

Here are some examples of playground equipment you could add:

  • Exciting and innovative pieces: Keep your playground exciting and promote learning with equipment such as PlayCubes®. These offer unlimited opportunities for kids to use imagination, exploration and their senses. Kids can practice their creativity as they imagine the cube as whatever they want. They can also climb through it, which engages their physical abilities as they also develop an understanding of shapes and sizes. This type of product is perfect for encouraging learning and discovery.
  • Learning panels: These playground panels let kids practice cognitive skills. Whether they feature a matching puzzle or opportunities to use their tactile senses, panels encourage learning on the playground. For instance, this Nature Hunt Panel allows kids to learn more about animals while challenging their cognitive abilities. Or, this Scavenger Hunt Panel encourages children to explore the playground and use their visual skills.
  • Musical or sound equipment: Another way to promote learning and growth on the playground is with musical pieces. Kids can take turns and create music with this type of equipment. It’s a great way for them to express themselves creatively. For example, these Concert Vibes are an exciting way for children to learn more about music and sound.

Create a Space to Support Play-Based Learning With Playworld

At Playworld, we understand the necessity of exciting, educational play. With the right playground equipment, you can facilitate play-based learning and encourage kids to make new discoveries. We are committed to creating high-quality and inclusive playground equipment for schools and other play areas across the country. We can help you find the best play solution with our extensive catalog of playground equipment.

Contact Playworld today to discover how you can create a play-based learning playground!

Create a Space to Support Play-Based Learning with Playworld!

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