Play based learning – ideas for little learners
When children play, they engage in an activity which has been described as pleasurable, voluntary, spontaneous, actively engaging and intrinsically motivating. In other words, playing brings happiness. And that is the main reason why ALL children engage in play.
When researching play, numerous benefits were found that impact the child’s overall development. Play was described as affecting “every aspect of children’s development” and it forms the foundation of “intellectual, social, physical and emotional skills necessary for success in school and in life” (Hewes 2006, p. 4)
To be more precise, studies found that play is a way for children to develop creativity, imagination and divergent thinking ability. Moreover, it showed that children who engage in pretend play develop their communication and language skills. One could then say that play is the highest form of learning.
Children acquire concepts through active involvement and interaction with their environment and construct their own knowledge through this exploration. Children learn while playing and this is the main focus of the concept of play-based learning.
Play Based Learning (PBL) is centred on the child and involves open-ended activities and hands on experiences. It focuses on children’s interests and abilities through engaging learning experiences.
Play based learning allows children the freedom to explore, and also to make mistakes, while learning becomes more meaningful.
Play based learning has been vastly researched and among the most important benefits found I would list:
· communication skills
· oral vocabulary development
· enhanced interactions with others
· learning how to regulate behaviour and emotions
· empowerment to make own decisions
· social-emotional skill development
· problem solving
· enhanced abilities to explore and express themselves
Because children need to be offered opportunities to engage in play based learning, here are a few play ideas to help little ones engage and explore.
1. 1. Make your own recipe
Cooking time! This is a great way to practice cooking and kitchen items vocabulary, but also learn about the importance of healthy food.
a. Bring food items/flashcards/toy food to the table
b. Offer chalk, crayons, paper/easel or any other materials that can inspire children to create a recipe/draw a menu/ invent a new type of vegetable etc
c.Don’t be afraid to use real kitchen items (whisk, ladle, bowls, rolling pins etc) and practice vocabulary
d. Allow plenty of space and time for the child to engage. Do not guide the game, simply follow the child’s lead. From time to time, speak to the child about examples of healthy/unhealthy food, how food is prepared, where it grows etc.
Note: You could also set up a restaurant/ toy kitchen to further explore the topic and encourage your child to expand the play episode.
2. Get creative: decorate a T-shirt
With this activity, children explore their creative side and also get to learn about how clothes are made.
a. Choose an old T-shirt
b. Decide on the type of art supplies you want to use: paints and paintbrushes/markers/crayons/ food colouring/ even color fondant icing
c. For older children, you could consider adding other elements too: buttons, beads, paper crafts you made beforehand, pockets to be sewn etc
d. Let the child decorate the T-shirt as preferred. Help the child if necessary, but allow time for him/her to create specific designs
e. While decorating the T-shirt, talk about how clothes are made, the importance of people’s work, appreciating clothes/ donating/ wasting etc
3. Sorting games
You can sort toys or any object around the house; choose to sort by colour, size, shape. You could make it even complex for older children: use, material, environment, author, etc
While your child is playing with any type of toys, start grouping them and discuss about what makes them the same or different. This is the starting point for the sorting activity, but it can also be used as a learning activity. Discuss animals (habitat, what they eat, wild/domestic animal etc) vehicles (where we see them, why we use them; compare based on speed, number of wheels and passengers etc) or any other type of toy your child prefers/you might wish to explore further.
B. Items around the house
When doing house chores, take advantage of the situation to include your child. Make it also a teaching opportunity. While unloading the dishwasher, let him/her help you and groups items: bowls go with bowls, cutlery in the drawers, plates etc. If you are folding laundry, let your child sort it first: tops, bottoms, etc/ colour sorting it even
C. Construction games
Construction games have many benefits and research showed that children learn best when involved in building meaningful artifacts (Papert, 1991). So, use any materials you have: loose parts, blocks, Lego, magnetic tiles, pipe building blocks, kaleidogears etc and let your child create, explore and invent.
Children are born with creative potential and construction games stimulate their imagination while achieving a feeling of self-worth when building something new. Allow space and time for their game to take shape, some children might even require days to build while engaging in such play episodes.
Bring together lots of other elements that the child might want to include: toys animals, people, vehicles, natural elements (leaves, sticks, cones) etc.
D. Sensory play
Since all human experiences develop through interaction with the environment, children use sensory play as a means to make sense of the world. Sensory play generates instant feedback for the child and serves as the perfect way to learn. When engaging in sensory play, children understand cause and effect, they practice fine and gross motor skills and become more aware of their own body and the world around.
Great sensory play ideas could involve: sand pits, making mud pies, painting on pebbles, making hand prints with various materials, playing with chalk on the sidewalk, creating a surprise bag (add various elements in a container for the child to take out and explore), gardening, having a toys picnic outside, water play, mixing ingredients.
Play can happen at any time and anywhere. Because children make no distinction between play and work, take advantage of this fact and encourage play based learning activities. Support children to use their creative potential and innate curiosity to explore the world and learn.