The importance of play-based learning*

Why is a play-based approach important?

Play is the way most humans, but especially young children, make sense of their world. Play-based learning is an important way to develop active learning. Active learning means using your brain in lots of ways. When children play, they

  • Explore the world – natural and social
  • Develop and practice social and language skills that may be more complex than in everyday activities
  • Expand and challenge their physical skills
  • Experiment with new ideas including symbolic competence required for formal learning
  • Enhance their self-confidence
  • Think and express themselves creatively
  • Respond to experiences with or without language
  • Develop their sense of self and identity.

What does play look like?

  • Children may play on their own in solitary play; alongside someone else but independently in parallel play or with other children in cooperative play
  • Play may be structured, where someone else makes the rules and decisions
  • Play may be unstructured, where the child is self-directed or takes all the initiative.

What can children learn in play?

  • positive attitudes of self-motivation and self-direction
  • self-confidence
  • cooperation and group values
  • curiosity, persistence and concentration
  • language and numeracy

We can support children’s play by

  • allowing for extended periods of time for children to remain in ‘the flow’ of their play
  • providing resources such as safe household items and materials
  • making enough space to focus on the play activity
  • catering for choices of activity, materials and equipment
  • role-modelling to encourage and extend ideas
  • challenging them with more complex thinking, novel ideas or experiences


Play and Children’s Learning – information and resources from NAEYC

This is an excellent article about the vital importance of play in childhood: “The play deficit” by Peter Gray.



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