Play-Based Learning: What is it and Why it Matters?

Play-Based Learning: What is it and Why it Matters?

Play-Based Learning: What is it and Why it Matters?

Children are regarded as active learners while the teachers are the planners, supporters and facilitators of learning. One crucial aspect of learning is play. As a physically active activity, play leads to the development of all types of motor skills. Play also promotes the health and well-being of a child. But there is more to play than these already well-appreciated benefits, especially when integrated into learning.

What is play and what makes play-based learning important?


Play-based learning defined

Early Years Learning Framework defines play-based learning as “a context for learning through which children organize and make sense of their social worlds, as they actively engage with people, objects and representations.”

Although there is no concrete definition of play in pedagogical context, specific characteristics describe learning through play.


This activity basically involves physical and verbal activities as well as mental engagement. Some of the basis of participation may include materials (props), people, ideas and environment.


It must be freely chosen. In a classroom setting, the activity is encouraged and supported, inviting or prompting the students to do it.


The activity must be enjoyable. While there may be challenges, fears and frustrations involved, enjoyment is a crucial feature.


It has a what-if quality; the activity involves pretend. It may have a meaning not often evident to the teacher or other observers.


The activity is a means unto itself. It means there may not be a goal or end in sight. The teacher may or may not be involved in the activity.


The teachers and students themselves may regard the activity as an own reward.


How important play-based learning is

In a world that the children themselves create and nourish to support learning, play is at the front and center of brain development. There are dispositions for learning that may occur in isolation or interplaying such as curiosity, openness, creativity, concentration, resilience and optimism.

Studies show that:

  • Play helps build a better brain
  • Play provides an avenue for active exploration that stimulates and strengthens brain pathways
  • Play increases the flexibility of the brain
  • Play improves the potential for learning later in life
  • Play fosters creativity and imagination
  • Play supports pre-literacy skills
  • Play encourages communication and language skills
  • Play does not only allow children to explore, but also identify and negotiate
  • Play also allows children to take risks and resolve conflicts
  • Play leads to the development of language and memory skills
  • Play leads to the ability to building meaningful relationships
  • Children who engage in active play are able to regulate their behaviors
  • Children who engage in active play have increased feelings of success
  • Play leads to the development of social competence among children
  • Play leads to optimism as the child make own choices
  • Play leads to the development of sense of empathy as the child begins to understand other people's points of view
  • Play can be a stress-reliever when the day becomes too much for the kids to take

Put simply, play and learning are not dichotomous. And play doesn't exist in a vacuum. Children make sense of the world in a very different way. Thus, there is a need to engage all the senses, manipulate materials, engage with peers and work through their thoughts and feelings to better understand the world they're in.


How to foster play-based learning

There are several ways to implementing play-based learning.

1) A daily schedule inclusive of active indoor or outdoor play

2) Integration of creative expressions, movements or music in lecture

3) A well-planned classroom with fun and educational materials (toys and other props)

Above are just the structured and planned ways of play-based learning. There can be detailed instructions to follow – from cutting strings to drawing flowers and building lego blocks. However, it can still be spontaneous wherein you let the students group together, pick the toys they want and engage from there.

While at it, there are guide questions that may help the teacher in determining whether she is on the right path when it comes to play-based learning.

  • Is it child-centered?
  • Are there enough activities or opportunities for play indoor/outdoor?
  • Can they use the materials provided to discover, engage and grow?
  • Can they use the materials purposefully?
  • Will the activities confuse or frustrate them?
  • Is the setting inviting?
  • Will I be able to build or follow through their passion for learning?

On a side note, the teacher needs to facilitate or observe the activity carefully particularly the unstructured activities. Some plays are not inclusive at all, and thereby could be harmful to other children excluded in the activity. The failure to develop feelings of connectedness may lead to disengagement in learning.

With that said, play can be considered the cornerstone of learning. Play is the language and currency of children. It's geared to their developmental levels. It is in tune with their learning needs. Hence, it builds the foundation for conceptual learning. If at all, it should be integrated into the curriculum, supported by every teacher and encouraged in every classroom.

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