How Children Learn Through Play (And Why You Should Encourage Them)

Did you know that there is much more to play than just having fun? It might seem silly that playing and learning have anything to do with one another, but they do!

In fact, play provides an excellent view into how children learn. Incorporating play into early childhood education helps children become lifelong learners and leads to continued success in school and life, which is exactly what we want for our children as a parent.   

According to Stephanie Jones, a professor of early childhood development at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, play provides children with the opportunity to practice important executive functions and self-regulation skills like paying attention, but it also promotes curiosity, exploration, and creativity.

Developmentally, play is highly beneficial and is why many classrooms across the country have begun incorporating it into their day-to-day activities. 

In this article, you will gain insight into play-based learning, what it is, why learning through play is important, and how to incorporate it into your child’s everyday routine. 

What is Play-Based Learning?

Play-based learning is a type of early childhood education module focused on open-ended play guided by the child themself. Since play is a voluntary, enjoyable activity, it can lay the groundwork for children to become curious and excited learners based on their interests.

Incorporating the two, playing and learning, helps children develop social skills, motivates them to learn, and even helps with language and mathematics. Play focuses the child’s attention on a fun task, opening their world to engaged learning.

What Play-Based Learning is Not

While it’s important to understand what play-based learning is, it is equally essential to know what it is not. Play is not directed or sanctioned by an adult, nor is it “work-oriented.” There is no desired outcome or an agenda to play. Play-based learning does not focus too much on loading children with information, although research indicates that children who go through play-based programs outperform those from academic programs.

What Are the Different Elements of Playing to Learn?

It is self-chosen. A child voluntarily chooses to play, how they’ll play, and for how long. Parents and adults may initiate play as an invitation, but the child determines the rest.

It is enjoyable for the child. This is an emotional aspect of play that is key. There could be minor hiccups during play, such as frustrations or disagreements, but overall, it is pleasurable for the child.

It is unstructured. There is ample time for exploration and discovery during play. The child chooses what they’re interested in and is not prescribed by rules or pre-determined plans set by someone else. 

It is process-oriented. There is no end or learning goal. The process of play is what’s important. 

It is make-believe and often involves rich imagination.

How children learn through play helps them develop emotional intelligence, confidence, motivation, and cognitive skills. It is a holistic, interactive experience that brings forward academic-like skills without the structure and discipline of academics.

Having your child engage in playful real-life and imaginary activities challenge children’s thinking because it is a form of active learning. When children play, they explore the world and build on their understanding of the natural and social environments around them. 

How Parents Can Facilitate Play

The great thing about play-based learning is that it’s easy, fun, and something to do as a family. Every moment is a teachable moment, and there is a lot that parents can do to facilitate learning through play.

The best thing you can do is be involved in what your child is doing by actively playing with them. Not only will it build stronger relationships, but your child will be learning and having fun at the same time.

Parents can provide designated playing environments with open-ended opportunities for play. Whether through dress-up clothes, blocks, an outdoor sandbox, or old kitchen supplies, the most essential component of play is for children to have the time, space, and freedom to do so however they choose.

The advantages of play-based learning are numerous; it’s engaging and interactive, fosters imagination and creativity, and even helps develop social and language skills, which are crucial. While play-based learning is difficult to translate into concrete developmental progress, if your child has a good time, you can be sure they’re also learning, growing, and discovering new things!

Play-based learning programs can vary, which is why it’s crucial to know precisely what you’re looking for. We hope this article has helped explain why play is important and how children learn through play.

Are you looking for a program that focuses on play-based learning? Ivy Camps USA delivers fun and educational programming to thousands of children across the world through after-school classes and summer camps for kids. We incorporate play-based learning into all of our programs – Lego-lovers learn architectural skills in our 5-week Design Cities With Lego class.

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