Learning Through Play: Education Made Fun

Avatar of Stephen McClelland
Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

Play is often thought of as a frivolous thing, a reward after achieving something or completing a mundane task that has been given to us to finish. Play is much more than this. It is an important way for your children to develop skills and functions that impact daily living and interactions for the rest of their lives. Learning through play is a concept that psychologists have been investigating with some of their discoveries pointing towards valuable development in children. Creativity, social development, problem-solving all find their way into learning through play. Interactions are created through learning through play and an array of social situations, children learn what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t. Learning through play is a fantastic way to socialise children and allow them to develop skills that will aid them throughout their lives.

Learning Through Play Theory

Learning through play has been an integral part of educational psychology. When it comes to child development, learning through play theory is very important. It has also been noted that letting children experience the great outdoors allows them more confidence, as they grow, to explore the world around them. With a host of physical and mental benefits, it is a theory that is widely respected and encouraged.

Theorists like Piaget and Vygotsky have pioneered the theory of learning through play and have been some of the first to connect learning and play to childhood development. Piaget was a pioneer for psychological development and its connections to play. He believed that outside play made children environmentally aware and helped with their learning. He saw playing outdoors assisting with cognitive development, emotional maturity, organisation, social skills including kindness, problem-solving, and confidence.

Three main play theories dictate the benefits of play to psychologists, educators, and parents and guardians. The classical theory is a basic look at learning through play. It focuses on the burning of excess energy through physical activity. A typical look of a rambling child playing outdoors. Modern theories are a little more refined. They involve themselves with how learning through play impacts children’s development. This usually involves observing or facilitating an active role in a variety of games. Contemporary theories find the incredible connections between daily tasks and play, how playground games and activities impact social interactions and even cultural knowledge.

While there are three different types of theories, each gives a unique insight into the benefits of learning through play, especially in the early years of development. These theories continue to highlight learning through play’s importance as a catalyst for children’s social development, as well as their emotional and physical growth. Incorporating experiences like this and encouraging movement and exercise can only aid a child’s development.


learning through play LearningMole

Examples of Learning Through Play

There are many examples of learning through play that assists children with different types of learning. Each has a significant impact on children’s learning skills but two particular kinds are popular and are widely used in homeschool situations and nurseries throughout the globe. Utilising these methods promotes a variety of childhood developments and builds skills for the kids. From socialising to problem-solving, learning through play can instigate a variety of new thoughts.

One of the more popular methods of learning through play is child-led activities. Child-led activities afford children the independence to make their own choices on what they want to do. This is an incredible tool to allow children to use their imaginations to explore their environment. Developing the imagination is usually one through role-playing activities where children make up worlds and lands, or even enact roles they have seen around the house or on television. Things like cooking and running a home.

Even though imagination is wonderful, these roles playing games and pretend play can be further developed via toys and other playground equipment. This allows children the freedom to design their narratives and create stories from their environments.

While it’s great to give children freedom of expression, guided play is a way of structuring learning through play and channelling it to help develop children’s skills and abilities. Ideas for guided play include wordplay, number games, and memory activities. These allow children to learn something on a particular topic or to reach a learning goal that is required. Children can then be left to learn through play and can get assistance from whoever is supervising.

Guided play gives focus on specific areas of education to ensure that children are developing in topics that they need to flourish in. There is a variety of teaching ideas that allow children to take part in activities that encourage learning through play. This, in turn, is guiding them to the goals that are required for their learning.

Activities and lessons that are outside can be used to promote exploration and learning through play. Children are naturally inquisitive and are drawn to challenges that give them a type of quest. Discovering and problem-solving assists with their physical and mental development.

learning through play LearningMole
Children learn social skills from being able to explore in their imaginations with other children. (Source: Palos Verdes Library District)


Learning Through Play in the Early Years

Due to the importance of learning through play in the early years, it is important to support and style opportunities for children to pursue their interests and ideas. This can be done in a group setting or individually. There is also freedom of spaces in the sense that it can take place outdoors or in an inside environment. Being able to learn through play is an important stage not only for children but can also help teenagers develop problem-solving and social skills.

There are ample learning resources available that encourage and display the benefits of learning through play. Physical activity provides nourishment for growing bones and muscles, and the endorphins produced through exercise has lots of anti-stress benefits that stay with people for life. Introducing this type of coping mechanism in children is an important way of them learning how to cope with stress at an older age.

Learning through play also provides explanations for why things happen and the consequences of particular actions. Playing in childhood provides a link for mental and physical capabilities with daily tasks that they will engage with as they grow older. Skills like creativity, problem-solving, observational skills, language, memory, and even concentration come from learning through play. Learning through play provides a safe environment for children to enact how they see the world around them.

Parents and guardians can help encourage children to learn through play. Giving them a loosely supervised play space that allows them to engage with objects and other people is a positive step towards their emotional growth. Naturally, it is only encouraged for children over four, but giving them that space allows for their confidence and independence to grow. Teenagers might not use this type of space for ‘play’ but utilise it through social strategies and other activities that help them develop.

Encouraging children to make use of outdoor space is one of the best ways to engage in learning through play. Provide them with that freedom and choice to explore your garden or spaces outside within limits. If they want to go outside when it is raining, don’t prevent that. They may discover plants or animals flourishing in this type of weather. Allow your children to manage their risks when they play and give them plenty of warning when play is coming to a close.

Worrying about your child being alone during play is every parent or guardian’s worry. It’s a completely natural feeling. If providing a safe environment, play will allow your child to manage risks and make decisions and choices about where, how and when they decide to play. Some risks need to be managed, but most can allow children to make their own choices in a controlled environment. Risk shouldn’t be eliminated, but it should be considered against the benefits. Allowing children to have some choice in their risks reinforces confidence which is something that will aid them as they age.

While you may want your child to make their own informed choices, certain phrases like “do as much as you want as long as you’re confident”, “stop if you don’t feel safe”, “I am here if you need some help”, “can you a little further?”, “How did you do it last time?”. All these phrases aid your child’s decision making and allow them the freedom to make their own choices and grow individually.

learning through play LearningMole
Being given freedom allows children to develop independence as they play. (Source: Andrew Satran)

Arguments Against Learning Through Play

While there are massive amounts of evidence and multitudes of resources that point in the direction of learning through play as being a positive action, some argue that learning through play has serious limitations for childhood development. The argument concludes that unstructured play does more damage than good and can inhibit children from their social development long term.

One argument believes that if children play the same game continuously, it diminishes the learning benefits. If there are no fresh challenges for them to engage in, then they will be stuck in a rut. This argument allows for adult intervention during children’s play. Arguably, providing the correct stimuli evaporates this notion that children can’t learn from play. Removing toys or adding new challenges to an environment creates new scenarios and challenges for them.

Some believe that guided play is more effective for children as then there can be a carefully selected environment for children to develop in. This is arguing that total supervision is what’s best for children. Evidence supporting this would be the argument that unstructured play is unfair to children as dominant children will consistently have the upper hand in group play. Supervised play creates a democracy between the children and prevents submissive characters from being drowned by the louder or more assertive children.

One argument that has standing is that unsupervised play can be dangerous. There are plenty of dangerous objects and situations that your child could unintentionally involve themselves in whilst playing alone. This is naturally not a situation that you wish to place your child in. Unstructured play can challenge the idea of safety and induce a panic around it. Risk can be a good thing for children though, as it teaches boundaries and helps them learn to consider considerations. If the risks are minimal and you are loosely supervising a situation, then your child should not be under any threat.

Another discussion that centres around the argument against learning through play are language development. Children’s language skills may be affected as they are learning from one another. Being exposed to adults who have a greater command of vocabulary and syntax helps children learn to speak well. Spending long periods with other children with no language instruction could potentially delay their language development. If there is no structured learning around this then the benefits are lost.

Even if you believe that learning through play is the best way for your child to develop, another parent or guardian may refute this. They may think it is a time-wasting exercise and is impeding the child’s learning ability. Presenting evidence and resources to point to unstructured learning through play as a positive model for learning may take some time to convince. Communicating this to a partner or other guardian will require patience and evidence to highlight the many benefits and importance that accompany learning through play.

learning through play LearningMole
Learning through play in early years is crucial for physical and mental development. (Source: Codie Collins)

The Importance of Learning Through Play

Learning through play is an incredibly important part of childhood development. As we grow up, we all have experiences that have taught us things about social cues, our creative process, and problem-solving skills. A lot of these skills were not made through structured, supervised play, but through being allowed to make informed choices and further developing independence and confidence.

Learning through play assists with early brain development as children develop social skills, creativity, and the sense of sharing and being kind. Creating these spaces to give your child the freedom to develop their sense of self and learn how to engage with people and express themselves all comes as part of learning through play.

Encouraging children to engage with learning through play is a fantastic way of allowing your child to develop the skills they need to grow into a structured, well-adjusted adult. All you have to do is open the door and let them explore their narratives.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *