We usually think of playing and learning as total opposites of each other. However, playing can actually complement a young child’s learning process. Research has found that play-based learning can be an effective method of developing young children’s cognition, creativity, social skills, self-esteem and willingness to engage in new environments.
What is Play-Based Learning?
Children are naturally curious about the world around them. They possess a desire to explore and engage with it by playing. Play-based learning is a method of teaching where the teachers capitalize on the children’s interests by providing specific encouragement and feedback during play activities. This way, the children are both proactive and engaged in their learning, gaining first-hand information about the world through expert guidance. It is an important element in various innovative educational approaches such as the Reggio Emilia approach, a student-centered and constructivist educational philosophy that cultivates the child’s potential for growth through their innate curiosity.
The most efficient way to develop a child’s language skills is with frequent interactions. While the child is playing, educators help to grow their vocabulary by asking questions, encouraging conversations and introducing unfamiliar words. This discussion-based approach lets children increase their mastery of a language in a natural way that is dynamic and compelling. Encouraging children to use rhyming and singing while they play also helps them with their memorization and pre-literacy skills. Studies have found that children in play-based learning programs have better vocabulary and storytelling capabilities compared to their peers in traditional classrooms.
There is a widespread misconception among parents that creativity is frivolous when, in fact, it is the most essential component to problem solving and innovation, skills especially needed in today’s knowledge-based economy. Playing is the most natural way for children to foster and expand their creativity and imagination. Through the use of toys, paints or blocks, teachers give children the freedom to let their curiosity and imagination run free. Studies indicate that this aspect of play creates a brain that has increased flexibility and improved potential for learning later in life.
Social and Emotional Skills
Frequent social interactions with teachers and peers are an important feature in play-based learning. By having discussions, play-acting or playing games, teachers guide children in developing social skills such as cooperation, sharing and responding to ideas, negotiating and resolving conflicts. Children learn the value of empathy and the importance of learning the feelings, perspectives and motivations of their peers early on.
Additionally, the active role children play in guiding their own learning helps them to develop positive self-esteem and confidence. This makes them more willing to take risks, explore and, most importantly, be motivated to learn.
At Shattuck-St. Mary’s Forest City International School we utilize the Reggio Emilia approach, an innovative and inspiring approach to early childhood education that values the child as strong, capable and resilient; rich with wonder and knowledge. Play-based learning is an integral part of the Reggio Emilia approach as well as our Early Childhood program, which is catered for children from ages 3 to 6. Through play, we help the children to grow into successful, sociable, creative and intelligent individuals within a safe and nurturing environment.