Learning through play is an integral part of child development and many schools have adopted it into their curriculum.


Play-based learning is a pedagogical approach where play is a valued method of learning, different types of play are being used by schools to enhance a child’s development.


Sarah Aiono, co-director of Longworth Education, an education consultancy service. Photo/Supplied

Longworth Education co-director Sarah Aiono, who is completing a doctorate in play-based learning, said it is more than a programme or add-on to the school timetable.


“A quality learning-through-play approach ensures a balance between child-guided and adult-guided learning experiences that are developmentally appropriate, highly responsive and flexible to student learning needs and interests.

“Teachers will intentionally make decisions about establishing a learning environment that reflects a rich understanding of constructivist theories of learning.”

This includes making sure the learning environment is set up to encourage children to guide their own learning and exploration of new ideas in their play, she said.

“They will resource play in a way that encourages open-ended discovery and creativity.

“But they will also have clear expectations of the way in which the space is shared with others.”

The key to an effective play environment in a school setting is the role the teacher has in supporting children’s learning as they engage in play.

“This distinguishes play pedagogy from other (equally valuable) types of play such as free play.”

Play-based learning is important for children because it improves their social and emotional competencies as well as giving them to opportunity to develop their executive functioning skills which are now recognised as key indicators of success in the future workforce, Aiono said.

“Of significance is the way play grows resiliency in children, as often they come across situations in play that involves conflict with others, or where ideas fail.”

Many schools around the country have benefited from incorporating play-based learning into their curriculum including Auckland’s Santa Maria Catholic Primary School.

Principal Gina Benade said her school introduced play-based learning at the beginning of 2018 as a response to an increasing number of new entrant students starting school with limited vocabulary and oral language ability.

“Our aim was to develop oral language, co-operation and social skills through creative, authentic learning experiences.

“We wanted to build the foundation skills of oral language through a play-based approach to teaching and learning.”

Learning through play was introduced into new entrant and Year 1 classrooms with teachers providing rich, authentic play-based learning experiences for students to develop oral language, she said.

“Our approach is to create a balance between learning through play and deliberate acts of teaching.”

Improvements have already been seen with five-year-olds settling into school quicker and leaving family happily in the mornings to enter their classrooms, Benade said.

There has also been an improvement in oral language, vocabulary development and levels of engagement.

“Play gives children the opportunity to take charge and to make choices about what they do and how.”


Students from Ako, a play-based school in Auckland, learning through play in nature. Photos/Supplied

Two years ago play-based school Ako was set up in Auckland to provide a learning environment immersed in nature and focused on each child’s interest.


Founder Sabrina Nagel said Ako has provided students with a way to learn naturally.


“Human beings learn through experimenting, trialling things and exploring. It’s human nature.

“From a very young age children have a curiosity and urge to play and do things.”

There is now a view in society that play has no use but evolutionarily and historically it is something that has always been done.

“We should be coming back to it. There shouldn’t be a difference between play and learning because they are linked.”

To make play-based learning work Ako incorporates different types of play that each has its own benefit, she said.

“People quite often think play-based learning is a free for all.

“There are different types of play, different situations that allow for different types of learning.”

One example is risky play which is important because it allows children to push themselves and understand their own boundaries.

Unstructured play also has benefits because it allows children to get into a flow of something without being interrupted.

“When they are truly interested the brain is working so hard.”




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