… for the EYLF to be implemented properly, all early childhood educators need to know what play is, why it is important, how to implement and assess a play-based program and their role in it. Dr Lennie Barblett, Associate Dean for the School of Education, Edith Cowan University.
The benefits of play ooze out of every interaction, every engagement, every moment. Learning takes place in each minute of play, in various ways, though so many of these are not obvious to the untrained eye. As teachers and educators, we value deep, free, unhurried play, and relish in moments where children have the time and the space to completely engross themselves in an experience, uninhibited by external expectations placed upon them by societal norms.
Teachers are advocates for children and continue to fight for the child's right to play, possessing a deep belief, and knowing how precious these early years are. Research states that play is 'essential' to a child's development through the impact on cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being'.
Despite overwhelming research that denotes the importance of unhindered, child-centred play, there is an increasing societal focus on academic readiness in some countries. In some early education spaces this has led to a focus on structured activities that are designed to promote academic results as early as preschool, with a corresponding decrease in playful learning.
“Play is not frivolous — it enhances brain structure and development and promotes executive function, which allows us to pursue goals and ignore distractions.” (Yogman, M., et. al. 2018)
How children learn through play
Research indicates that the deepest level learning takes place through play; learning through play provides opportunities for the strongest connections in the brain to be made and prepares the brain for future knowledge to be built upon. Play has been described as ‘the work of children’ and provides a magnificent opportunity for learning, discovery, investigation, and creation of meaning.
Play is voluntary and inherently intrinsically motivated, with fun and spontaneity at the helm. Cultural diversification means all children learn and play in unique ways and develop unique dispositions about their worlds through play. It presents an opportunity to develop pro-social skills and learn about themselves and others.
The role of the educator in play
Play is recognised by the United Nations as every child's right, and as teachers, educators, and advocates of children, the role of 'play protector' falls on the shoulders of teachers everywhere — to educate, promote, and defend play in all its forms.
Children are innately capable, and it can take a special adult to be able to recognise these strengths, and provide a learning environment that welcomes, challenges, and embraces holistic, child-led play. It is important to note that Early Childhood Teachers and educators have completed years of training, as well as additional professional development focused on engaging children in play whereby learning naturally occurs.
Ensuring children feel this deep sense of capability and receive from adults a sense of respect and trust in these abilities allows a child to engage to their full potential. Teachers can recognise learning within play, with or without interjecting, and should be skilled at recognising unique opportunities to provide scaffolding, development of ideas, and opportunities to make further discoveries, thereby developing deeper understanding.
"Play is a magnificent opportunity for learning, discovery, investigation, and creation of meaning.”
References: The Power of Play: A Paediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children From the American Academy of Paediatrics, Yogman, M., et. al. (2018)
Play Australia website
NAPCAN - The importance of play
Amplify - Don’t forget to play
Amplify - Ideas for supporting children’s learning during lockdown
Amplify - Why early learning matters