Play in ECE
Play pedagogies offer children opportunities to learn in developmentally appropriate ways, and are associated with a range of positive personal, academic and social outcomes.
Play is a complex and dynamic activity that can support learning in multiple ways. Different kinds of play offer different possibilities for learning, and vary in the levels of agency, power and control accrued to children. As a result, play pedagogies require a detailed understanding of different play types and how they support learning. The use of a continuum of free play, guided play and teacher-directed play is recommended in order to effectively meet children’s learning needs.
Play pedagogies are found to have positive benefits for children in terms of enhancing well-being, academic and cognitive performance, social and emotional skills, and opportunities for physical movement. Play is most clearly linked to the development of learning dispositions, social competencies and self-regulatory executive function skills (such as controlling attention and flexibly redirecting behaviour).
The many dimensions of play and skills involved in play make it difficult to determine the precise influence of play on learning. While a large number of studies demonstrate the importance of play for learning and development, research on play pedagogies is not able to conclusively determine whether play is a more effective form of learning than more traditional pedagogies.
The following strategies can support teachers in implementing play pedagogies:
- Be clear about how play pedagogies can best support the desired learning in your setting
- Structure play opportunities through careful planning of the environment
- Intentionally plan to extend children’s self-directed play
- Observe carefully and take care when determining how to intervene in play in order to support children’s autonomy
- Teach and support play skills
- Do you consider different play pedagogies when planning activities and interactions to reflect the priorities you have for children’s learning?
- Have you explored the use of guided play and teacher-directed play in your setting?
- What kinds of roles do you regularly take in children’s play and how do you determine which is appropriate in a given play scenario?
- How do you stimulate children’s thinking and extend learning through your involvement in play?
- What kinds of play, and teacher interventions in play, might best support children’s social development, language, creativity and thinking, or subject knowledge development?
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