Thriving through Fun: 6 Benefits of the Play-Based Approach to Learning
By Maya Yatom, Curriculum and Training Specialist
If you’ve been following conversations on Early Childhood Education, you will have likely come across two potentially opposing concepts: the importance of play and the race to reach academic goals as early as possible.
On the one hand the world is becoming more and more competitive, and on the other, parents today acknowledge that allowing children to enjoy childhood to the fullest is an important ingredient to their lifelong happiness and success. These presumably opposing truths leave parents perplexed and educators having to walk a very tight rope. Luckily, research shows these ideas are not contradictory; in fact, they go hand in hand.
The Research Is in: Play-Based Approach Works
While traditional approaches to teaching separate play and academics, research shows that play-based learning supports the development of academic skills. For children through the age of 9, play has been discovered to be the optimal way of learning (Stegelin, 2005). When engaged in play, children are more likely to be interested in what they are learning, more likely to retain knowledge, and to apply new knowledge to different activities.
The Benefits of Play-Based Learning
Let’s take a look at a few of the benefits of play-based learning:
- Social Emotional Development: When children engage in play, there are wonderful opportunities for social emotional learning. Through play, children learn, experiment with, and practice cooperation and communication. They can practice socially acceptable interactions and develop their sense of empathy alongside their ability to understand and voice their own needs.
- Emotional Development: Play-based learning allows children to manage and regulate their emotions. They are allowed to experience both success and failure in a safe and comfortable environment through which they can find ways to feel, express, and process their full range of emotions. Research has shown that a child’s ability to regulate their emotions has a strong impact on their academic success throughout their educational path.
- Literacy: Both free play and guided play provide ample opportunities to practice communication and expand a child’s vocabulary. Songs and games are wonderful ways to introduce children to phonics and increase their vocabulary. When children play in an environment that displays letters, symbols, and other texts, they learn the connection between icons and their meaning. Play also allows children to interact with literacy material. By allowing children to engage with letters, sounds, words, and books through play, it increases their ability to form language and strengthens their early literacy skills.
- Math: Through puzzles, manipulative, dramatic play, and so much more, children are able to experience early mathematical concepts. Numeracy, addition & subtraction, measurements, and patterns are taught in an experiential manner through guided play and then practiced and applied during free play.
- Science: Scientific thinking is front and center when exploring the natural world and during fun, hands on science experiments. In the classroom and on the playground, children engage in learning cause and effect and practicing classification, observation, and measurements. Combining free and guided play allows teachers to frame the conversation and encourage children to apply their knowledge and skills.
- Cognitive: Play-based learning allows both guided and natural occasions for problem solving and critical thinking. Exercising all the above-mentioned skills through play allows for better retention of information and transfer of knowledge and skills across different facets of life.
Through play-based learning teachers are able to present learning goals by creating learning environments, and guiding conversations. In play-based classrooms children not only increase their academic competence and cognitive abilities, but they also develop their social and emotional foundations and cultivate their natural curiosity. Nurturing a child’s love for learning and fostering their thirst for knowledge creates a strong foundation for lifelong learning, both inside and outside the classroom.
Caven, M. (2022, July 6). Prioritizing Play: The Importance of Play-Based Learning in Early Education. Regional Educational Laboratory Program. https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/rel/Products/Region/northeast/Blog/100779#:~:text=Play%2Dbased%20learning%20is%20relatively,language%20development%2C3%20and%20math
Ginsburg, K. R. (2007). The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1), 182-191. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2006-2697
Patrick Jachyra & Caroline Fusco (2016) The place of play: from playground to policy to classroom well-being. Sport, Education and Society, 21:2, 217-238, DOI: 10.1080/13573322.2014.896331
Stegelin, D.A. (2005). Making the Case for Play Policy: Research-Based Reasons to Support Play-Based Environments. Young Children, 60(2), 76-85.