Play-based learning works for pre-school children

EARLY YEARS: Play-based learning is fundamental to development in a child's pre-school days. Photo: Shutterstock.
EARLY YEARS: Play-based learning is fundamental to development in a child's pre-school days. Photo: Shutterstock.

The function that early-learning centres perform is far more substantial than merely babysitting youngsters during the day.

The development of the child in the early stages of life are, as any centre will tell you, crucial, with a variety of important skills progressing as a result of the right activities and programs.

Children need a good deal of play-based learning before they start formalised schooling. In fact, this concept is so fundamental that various studies around the world have expressed this as a given when discussing the topic of what age is best to make the transition from play-based to classrooms.

One Australian study (published in 2015) led by Karen Stagnitti of Deakin University showed that a play-based curriculum at the start of primary school was also more effective for a child's narrative language skills when compared against the traditional structure.

What they looked at were students at two schools, measuring them at school entry and again after six months. The "children in the play-based group significantly improved on all measures, whereas the children in the traditional group did not." Additionally, they tested a subset of those children and the results suggested that "the play-based curriculum also had a positive influence on the acquisition of grammar."

Children have a natural desire to play, and it's a great motivational tool for learning because they can enjoy it.

Play-based learning can be achieved through free play and through guided play. Either way, this play-based form of early learning has a multitude of developmental benefits.

In terms of those language skills, the young child is encouraged to communicate with words as their vocabulary steadily grows. Adults further encourage the use of language by asking questions - not because they want the answer but to simply get the child to interact - and the children also get to communicate among each other, further helping their language development.

That also brings us to social skills, which they develop with other children around. In conjunction with this, they will also experience emotional development. They get to feel part of a little community, plus they can learn empathy and other levels of emotional competence as they discover the emotions and motivations of those around them.

Dramatised play is another method of learning empathy. For example, caring for a teddy or doll with a hug when it gets hurt, or feeding it when its hungry.

Explorative play can help their confidence and their willingness to try new things.

There are also play-based activities that help foster their ability to think creatively, which also assists their future abilities in problem-solving.