Research shows children learn best when they learn while they are ‘doing’ something they enjoy. Don’t we all?! The learning is a by-product to the engagement of the experience! When a child is filling a bucket of sand, they are learning foundation mathematics concepts, that are easily learnt through play, not through being ‘shown’ or ‘told’. When they pretend to read a book, we know they are not reading, but they are learning how to handle a book and recognise print. This is all part of the learning process.
As children play, they explore, create, problem solve, practice new skills, construct new understandings and consolidate learning, all at their own pace. Best of all children gain confidence because they get to make choices and set their own goals. When children can set their own goals, their positive sense of self, emotional wellbeing and resilience are enhanced!
Play can also be guided by children’s peers and educators. They play alongside other children and educators which scaffold their learning. Educators can guide children’s decision making (like giving them hints), so ultimately the children still make the decisions. Guided play enhances children’s learning because it provides more challenges as children can engage in more complex forms of play and language. Guided play is also effective in focusing children’s attention and reinforcing new vocabulary skills.
When children play alongside each other, they can role play everyday concept to enhance their understanding of people, values, traditions, culture, and community in an environment where the children feel safe to pretend. All the while they are building friendships, practicing their receptive and expressive language skills and social skills.
This active hands-on learning through play fosters dispositions such as curiosity, creativity, flexibility and initiates foundational skill sets. Play can often be seen as something that just passes time, but that statement cannot be further from the truth. Play based learning is a context for learning through which children organise and make sense of their social worlds, as they engage actively with people, objects and representations. (DEEWR, 2009, pg3)