What is play-based learning in preschool?

If you have a child in early education, you have undoubtedly come across the phrase ‘play-based learning’. Many parents hear this and initially become concerned that it means there is no structure in their child’s learning environment. Children, however, thrive in a play-based learning environment, where skilled educators can provide a curriculum that allows children to follow their interests.

What is play-based learning?

Children are naturally motivated to play. Children are also individuals with very different interests. A play-based program builds on this motivation and the children’s individual interests, using play as a context for learning and exploration. Children can experiment, discover and solve problems in fun and hands-on ways.
Drawing on a child’s natural sense of enquiry, play-based experiences are led by the child, who is supported by an educator. Whilst immersed in the activity, an educator encourages a child’s learning and inquiry through interactions that aim to stretch their thinking to higher levels.

Research has shown that play-based programs for younger children can provide a strong basis for later success at school. Furthermore, children’s learning outcomes are shown to be higher in a play-based program, compared to children’s learning outcomes using a direct instruction approach.

As play supports positive attitudes to learning, such as persistence, enthusiasm, curiosity and imagination, a well-executed play-based program can create socially competent learners who are able to face challenges and create solutions.… all skills that cannot be replicated by direct instruction.

Play-based learning is central to the Australian Government’s Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), the national framework for early education.

Why is play-based learning important?

Though it might look like ‘just play’, children learn an array of different skills through the process of play. As they explore, discover, negotiate, take risks, create meaning and solve problems – each step develops social, literacy, numeracy and communication skills, as well as fine and gross motor skills.

At Sanctuary Early Learning Adventure, we truly believe that every child has the ability to be and do whatever they desire. We see children as capable and competent learners who have the ability to judge their own skill level and capabilities. Our learning spaces and our educators support children to take safe risks, creating an environment where they can practice skills such as perseverance, cooperation and relationship building.

Our focus on children’s emerging autonomy, allows them to have a strong sense of agency. Agency provides them with the opportunity to have some control over what occurs in their everyday world.

By offering children open-ended resources, we encourage them to use their imagination and create things that we would never have imagined. When we trust children’s abilities and truly see them as capable learners, they come to life before our eyes.‍

What this looks like in the classroom

While play-based learning may look simple on the surface, there’s a lot of work that goes on in the background to ensure that each child is interested, engaged and achieving the learning outcomes they will need for school and life.

At Sanctuary, our educators have an in-depth understating of child development and can introduce concepts such as pre-math, pre-reading, pre-writing – the list goes on. By following each individual child’s interests and strengths, we offer experiences and environments where children thrive. Our belief is that children learn more when they are truly interested in a topic.

For example, we often have a small group of children who love playing in the mud pit and would stay there all day if they could. They are not interested in learning to write their name and sitting down at the writing table is not something they want to do.

Our educators acknowledge their interest of the mud pit and invite them to help 
with planting and digging in the garden. The educator will introduce concepts that include hypothesising, measuring, writing, sharing, turn taking, mathematics, sustainability and a long-term project that may go on for months, which promotes sustained shared thinking.

How do educators support children’s play?

We believe that children require extended periods of uninterrupted play. Our educators make decisions throughout the day and adjust their routines to enable children to either continue with their play or allow them to return to their play later in the day.

Respect is always demonstrated when we interrupt children’s play. For example, a child’s ‘work in progress’ is left out or stored safely so they can return to their play after lunch or rest time.

Benefits of play-based learning

  • Encourages language skills
  • Supports pre-literacy skills
  • Develops social and emotional skills
  • Fosters creativity and imagination
  • Encourages a love for learning

What you can do to support play-based learning

  • Read to your child daily
  • Ask your child lots of questions to engage their curious mind
  • Give your child extended periods of uninterrupted play both indoors and outdoors
  • Where possible, limit screen time
  • Encourage conversations about your child’s interests
  • Talk regularly with your child’s early learning centre, to ensure a synergy between your child’s life at home and at preschool


By www.sanctuarylearning.com.au  | 1300 00 PLAY
Sanctuary Early Learning Adventure | Mermaid Waters, Maudsland, Ashmore

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