When children are given the time and the space to construct their own learning, the results are phenomenal. Play-Based Learning allows children to explore their world and build their understanding through inquiry, exploration, problem-solving, and interaction. Young children especially will learn significantly more through hands-on exploration and discovery as opposed to pencil and paper tasks or adult-led learning. The best thing we can do for young children is to allow the time and the space to play!
As the facilitating adult, what can we do to enhance the learning opportunities that are presented during play?
10 Things Adults Can Do To Enhance Play-Based Learning Opportunities
1. Remove electronic and battery-operated toys
Toys that require batteries are often doing the playing for our children and the child becomes a passive participant in the play. Allowing children to use all of their senses during play will enhance creativity and engagement. For example, when a child makes their own siren noises when playing with a fire truck, they are solidifying their understanding of what a fire truck does and the purpose of the siren.
2. Allow large chunks of time for play and learning to occur
It takes time for a child to get into the right mindset for quality play. If we constantly usher a child onto the next task or activity, we rob them of the opportunity to truly get into a play state of mind. Children will vary in how long it takes them to engage and they may oscillate between make-believe and reality play. The more frequently a child has extended periods of time available for play, the quicker they will be able to immerse themselves in play when the opportunity presents itself.
Play-based learning is child-directed and paced by the child. Their actions and questions should guide the adult’s direction.
4. Follow the child’s lead
For play-based learning to fully transpire, adults must follow the child’s lead without any preconceived ideas or imposition of knowledge. This is the child’s chance to construct their own knowledge and by correcting them or continuously redirecting we often restrict their learning. Be open to the child using materials and toys in a creative way that may or may not reflect what you know to be the typical or intended use.
5. Ask questions
Asking open-ended questions allows for children to formulate their ideas and problem-solve. Avoiding questions with a clear right or wrong answer is important to allow children the full learning potential offered by play-based learning. For example, I might ask a child with a fire truck to tell me what the emergency is and have them elaborate on details, allowing them the opportunity to strengthen their speech, language, and communication skills.
6. Introduce materials that are new and novel or stimulate a child’s senses
Play can be extended through the addition of new materials or alternate items. The more senses that a child activates during play, the more learning will occur. Sensory tables are a great place to introduce new items for exploration!
7. Introduce Common items
Sometimes the introduction of common household items rather than toys can stimulate a massive shift in a child’s level of engagement with their play. For example, introducing a variety of kitchen tools and some clipboards to the house centre can dramatically change how the children engage in the house centre and suddenly it becomes a restaurant instead of a house.
8. Head outdoors
The easiest way to stimulate a child’s curiosity and engagement is to head outside! Nature is the best playground for child-led exploration. There is so much to be learned in nature, from artistic design, structural creations, lifecycles, and a multitude of fine motor and gross motor opportunities.
9. Allow for interactions
Encouraging interaction during play is critical in developing a child’s communication skills, including language and vocabulary development, listening skills, and questioning.
10. Be spontaneous and flexible
The best learning sometimes results from spontaneous opportunities to follow a child’s lead and interests. Organic learning can be the richest learning available to our children but we must be able to recognize it and allow it to take place when plans change.
What are your favourite ways to encourage child-led learning through play?
I’m Dominique…wife, mom of 2 tiny humans, former early years and preschool special education teacher. I am passionate about empowering tiny humans to be confident independent learners…through play. You can connect with me further at www.DominiqueDunlop.com
Dominique Dunlop, BEd. SpecEd.