Traditional educational styles can be a great way to learn. Many people thrive in an organised and well-oriented learning space.
However, the plain truth of the matter is that many people struggle in a more conventional classroom setting, particularly when you’re talking about kids. That’s where play-based learning can be a great tool to help a child learn.
The Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development defines play-based learning as “essentially, to learn while at play.”
The definition goes on from there to point out that the term is a hot point of debate in the academic world. For instance, it isn’t clear what exactly is meant by “play.” Play-based learning is not directly equivalent to playing. Instead, there is always an educational element involved, even though it has varying degrees of perceptibility.
Play-based learning can also be further broken down into two categories. Free play is child-directed whereas guided play has more direct influence from a teacher or caretaker.
While the details are a bit nebulous, the general idea of play-based learning is popular in the academic world due to the many benefits that it offers children. This includes the fact that play-based learning:
- Fosters independence as children are freed to pursue interests and manage unpredictable situations. This enhances key independent traits, such as problem-solving and self-confidence.
- Teaches teamwork and cooperation through group play such as sports.
- Helps with focus as children are confronted with challenges that spark their interests in unique ways. This can be a huge factor for younger individuals who are still developing their attention spans.
- Encourages exploration as children develop a genuine interest in their learning experiences. This can once again enhance confidence as well as curiosity and can help children hone their ability to lead, discover, and explore.
- Can be tailored to each child’s learning style and needs. Play-based learning provides an opportunity to enable neurodivergent learning styles, such as Dyslexia, ADHD, and Autism, to learn more naturally.
Along with all of these benefits, play-based learning is just, plain fun. While it certainly has an academic purpose, it marries this objective with the desire to enjoy the learning process.
This doesn’t just help a child learn in the present. It also enhances the experience and fosters a long-term love of learning rather than the stereotypical antipathy toward education that is far too common among graduates and adult learners.
All of these benefits collectively work to develop a sense of confidence that can only come through an enjoyable and engaging learning experience.
Understanding the importance of play-based learning is a good first step. However, actually implementing it can be a bit tricky. Remember, this isn’t just telling your kid to “go play.” Play-based learning, whether guided or free, includes a certain degree of purpose and structure.
Here are a few suggestions for different ways to integrate play-based learning into the daily routine of the children under your care.
The first step is trying to address your entire mindset when you engage with your child. Rather than creating a strict formula or scheduling out every minute of their day, create as much breathing room as you can to let play factor into the picture.
You can still guide and direct those interests. However, it’s also important to act as a facilitator rather than putting yourself in the driver’s seat.
The other side of this coin is truly letting your child learn. This is a key concept in the Montessori approach to learning. You can’t just let your child direct much of the learning experience. You also need to resist the urge to help them with anything that they feel they can do themselves.
Yes, play-based learning can happen in isolation. A child can play alone, and they can play with their instructor, too — but many of the best play-based learning opportunities come in social settings. That’s why it’s important to look for ways to get your children around other kids.
This can start at a very early age. For instance, by enrolling your child in preschool, you give them the chance to start developing key skills. This includes everything from motor skills and problem-solving to the ability to socialise with others, communicate, and practice active listening. All of these can help them develop a deeper sense of confidence as they interact with others.
One of the best ways to find options for your child is to consider what they enjoy and then look for social settings where they can cultivate those interests. For instance, if you have an avid reader, look for a book club at your local library. If they enjoy games, take them to a local game night. You get the idea.
Play-based learning doesn’t always have to be original. With that in mind, don’t hesitate to scour the internet for resources that can keep your children’s learning journey fresh and exciting.
The great thing about living in the information age is that there’s a resource for practically every need out there. If you have a toddler who’s struggling to learn their numbers, look up a play-based math resource. If your elementary student isn’t reading well, conduct a similar search for play-based reading ideas.
Finally, remember to keep perspective as you go along. If you find that a certain play-based learning activity works for your five-year-old, don’t assume that it will work when they’re six or seven. At a certain point, you’ll need to change things up to keep them challenged and engaged.
However, don’t use the fact that they “grew out of” activity as a signal that they’ve outgrown play-based learning as a whole. On the contrary, play-based learning should continue throughout their learning experience.
That said, the way a child engages with play-based learning can absolutely shift over time. Keep their age and interests in mind, and tailor their play-based learning opportunities accordingly.
Traditional learning styles can be very effective at times. However, for many students, this style tends to harm rather than help their learning experience. This can lead to educational struggles which can quickly undercut their confidence.
If your child is spinning their wheels in a traditional learning setting, consider implementing play-based learning to help them re-engage with their education. As they take a new interest in the learning process, their confidence will grow — and so will their love of learning.