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  • Gabby Leen

Child-Led Play-Based Learning

The Innovating Pedagogy report for 2019 highlights a global trend of playful learning in our education systems.

Child-led play-based learning is gaining momentum and will continue to do so over the coming years, but what is it and why are we doing it?

What is child-led play-based learning?

Child-led play-based learning is a type of intentional teaching where educators identify learning opportunities in child-directed play. Children are naturally motivated to play and are supported by the teacher to do so. Educators can introduce and reinforce concepts they want children to learn but in a way that engages each child's individual interests.

Why is it good?

There are many benefits of child-led play-based learning and it has been shown to lead to good academic and developmental outcomes. It teaches children important life skills like socialisation alongside traditional academic skills like early literacy and numeracy.

Literacy and numeracy are the kind of skills that were traditionally taught in a teacher-directed fashion. Nowadays, educators are coming up with more and more creative ways to teach these skills in an engaging and child-led way. For example, if one child is playing outside in the mud kitchen, an educator might direct and help them to write up a sample menu with words and prices. If another child is scavenging around the yard looking for bugs and leaves, an educator might encourage them to count what they find and record it on a piece of paper.

Play also creates the opportunity for speech and language development. As children play they will label various objects and describe what they are doing. Encouraging language development during play can be as simple as asking a child questions about their game or narrating what they are doing to introduce new vocabulary.

During play, children learn how to negotiate, cooperate and share which are all vital social skills for building friendships and relationships later in life. They also learn how to be assertive and work as a team. Alongside these vital skills, play also has benefits for cognition, critical thinking, problem solving and so much more.

Child-led play, in particular, has been shown to increase confidence and engagement in children as they receive focused attention from the adult. This form of intentional teaching accounts for children's individual interests and allows them to take control, meaning it is authentic to the child. Children develop positive attitudes to learning, which provides a strong basis for later success at school.

How to do it?

The aim is to build on children's natural motivation to play in order to provide opportunities for learning. The role of the educator is to pose questions and facilitate learning without interrupting the play. The main challenge (and fun) comes from spotting the opportunities to introduce intentional teaching into the child-directed play.

Another way to ensure that your teaching is child-led is to involve the children in class planning. Asking the children what they want to play with, what they have had enough of, and what they are interested in is a great way to work out what learning spaces to set up.

Your environment is your best friend in creating opportunities for learning through play. If you place engaging materials related to certain topics in the environment, the children will learn from it. For example, if you hope to teach children about sustainability and respecting the planet, providing regular, play-based experiences to reinforce this will motivate the children to learn about these things.

Child-led play is a challenging but fantastic way to watch children play and learn in a way that engages their interests. There are so many benefits and it can be a lot of fun for children and teachers alike. Good luck and have fun!

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