Why is Learning Through Play Important?

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Why is Learning Through Play important in early years, and how can it enhance a child’s opportunity for deep learning?

In this article, we cover the following:

  • The basic idea behind Learning Through Play
  • Learning Through Play and Early Learning Goals
  • Fun ways to introduce Learning Through Play outdoors
  • And how outdoor play equipment can connect Learning Through Play and Physically Active Learning (PAL)

Why is Learning Through Play so important, and what is its basic idea?

According to The LEGO® Foundation’s research on this topic, Learning Through Play should offer young children an experience that encourages problem solving. In addition, it must fulfil five key characteristics.

It should be a:

  1. Joyful
  2. Meaningful
  3. Actively Engaging
  4. Socially Interactive
  5. And Iterative experience.

Why is Learning Through Play Important in Early Years?

At its core, Learning Through Play forms an integral part of a child’s developmental process, especially for nursery and primary school age groups.

The research by The LEGO® Foundation advises us that traditional classroom-based learning serves a child in the way of ‘Surface Learning’. 

The definition of Surface Learning cited on The Wellbeing Thesis website suggests that pupils might do the bare minimum to be able to repeat what they have learned rather than achieve a complete understanding.

On the flip side, there is something called ‘Deep Learning’. The same website explains that during Deep Learning, pupils are more likely to engross themselves in a given topic or activity following an internal desire to know and understand more.

Learning Through Play is an important part of balanced early childhood education. It falls into the category of ‘Deep Learning’.

Learning Through Play and Early Learning Goals

The benefits of play are essential to helping young children grow, learn and achieve their targeted outcome on national early learning goals. 

Some common and enjoyable ways of creating ‘deep learning’ environments by incorporating Learning Through Play with pupils include:

  • Engaging in child-led activities such as junk modelling, lego or block building etc.
  • Role-play areas with writing or number-based learning.
  • And outdoor learning.

Environments that allow children to discover and experiment in play-based learning settings empower teachers to encourage independent learning.

It helps children to consolidate what they have learned in more traditional learning settings (surface learning).

Teachers can promote critical thinking by asking questions such as:

  • Can you build that with these bricks?
  • Can you talk about it?
  • Can you tell me about its features?
  • Can you write a sentence about your model?
  • Etc.

And they gain the opportunity to observe a pupil’s development in critical areas:

  • Speaking
  • Fine motor skills
  • Understanding of the world
  • Literacy and numeracy
  • Playing alongside others / social skills
  • Etc.

Fun Ways to Introduce Learning Through Play outdoors

Whether it’s summer or winter, Schools should make outdoor learning opportunities available to pupils. But what are some of the ways we can create learning spaces that engage a child’s imagination?

  • Sensory Playground Equipment: Sensory Playground Equipment encourages children to learn about the world through sight, sound, touch, and smell. 
  •  Playground Markings: Playground Markings are a simple way of turning your playground into a learning environment. Young children can enjoy Letter Learning Activities, Number Learning Activities, and many other fun educational games, whether as part of a lesson or at play times.
  • Outdoor Classrooms: Outdoor Classrooms or open gazebos can change a pupil’s learning environment at any time of year. These allow for engaging learning activities such as mud kitchens which are not always practical indoors.

Using Outdoor Play Equipment to Connect Learning Through Play and Physically Active Learning (PAL).

As life becomes more sedentary, schools must provide opportunities for children to get active. These activities should include settings for pupils to develop gross motor skills.

Some studies suggest active play can increase a child’s focus on a task. It also indicates that it can help to lengthen their time focusing on a given assignment.

Combining Learning Through Play and Physically Active Learning becomes an obvious choice when we think about the positive impact it can have.

On the one hand, Learning Through Play encourages a child’s deep learning. On the other hand, Physically Active Learning can help increase a child’s focus.

If we pair these learning accelerators together, we may give children an advantage when retaining and understanding the topics taught in class.

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How can we begin to bring these two aspects of learning together?

  • Early Years Outdoor Play Equipment: Early Years outdoor play equipment creates fun and challenging outdoor areas. Low-level play equipment challenges coordination and balance. Children can explore little tree houses, themed play spaces, buddy shelters, bridges and balancing equipment. Bright and visual surfacing provides a range of different textures and sensations.
  • Daily Mile Tracks: The Daily Mile in schools is a popular initiative founded by Elaine Wyllie MBE. The idea behind the daily mile initiative is to create an inclusive physical activity space for children of all abilities.