Why Play-Based Learning Matters in Kindergarten

May 30, 2023 | Blog

two girls playing on a swing

Wonder what might be the key to successful learning in kindergarten? The answer may surprise you: Play! 

Play-based learning in kindergarten may sound like all fun and games, but don’t be fooled! It’s an essential and influential part of early childhood education, cleverly disguised as fun and enjoyable activities.

In this article, we’ll explain what play-based learning is, why it matters, and provide clear examples of how it can be applied at school or in your home. You’ll also learn about the benefits of play-based learning and discover how a play-based kindergarten may incorporate such an educational philosophy into its curriculum.

What is Play-Based Learning?

Play-based learning in kindergarten is an integral part of early childhood education, offering a balance between structured and unstructured activities, where children learn through play.

Play-based learning involves children participating in enjoyable, purposeful, social, creative, and open-ended learning activities. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach; it can take multiple forms.

The 3 Different Types of Play-Based Learning

students playing with a teacher

Do you know that there are three different types of play-based learning? Let’s look at them in more detail below. 

The first is self-directed play, where children initiate and control their play. In this scenario, teachers play a supportive role, facilitating the children’s play by providing the necessary resources, materials, and space. Self-directed play encourages autonomy and fosters creativity and imagination in your child.

Next, there’s the child- and teacher-directed play, a more collaborative approach. Here, the initiative to play can come from either party — teachers play the role of facilitators, enhancing the play experience by asking questions or offering prompts while actively participating. This method allows for interactive learning, fostering curiosity and developing critical thinking skills.

Lastly, there’s teacher-directed play, where teachers plan specific activities that help children reinforce particular skills or deepen their understanding of a topic. Though guided by the teacher, children remain actively engaged, thus solidifying their learning.
Regardless of the approach, the central theme of play-based learning is active involvement. Children acquire knowledge in an immersive and enjoyable manner by thinking, analysing, problem-solving, communicating, and creating through play. They’re not just passive recipients but active participants in their learning journey.

Examples of Play-Based Learning Activities

two girls working on their art project

Inspired by Fred Tomeselli’s art piece, Bird Blast, we created a BUG Blast with moths, butterflies and other insects.

There are many different ways to play—the possibilities are endless!

For a young child, play-based learning may take the form of activities that meet their interests and learning needs. Let’s look at some ways parents and teachers can encourage play-based activities at home or in school.   

#1 Role/ Pretend Play 

When kids engage in role-play or pretend play, they do more than have fun. Playing a role like a dentist or a chef helps them understand different jobs and societal roles while building empathy and social skills.  

Pretend play also promotes language development and communication. So, whether they’re managing a toy grocery store, putting out a “fire” as a firefighter, or whipping up a meal in a play kitchen, they’re learning how to imagine, interact, and express themselves.

#2 Building Block Play

Those blocks your child is stacking? They’re not just fun; they’re educational. 

Building structures, figuring out how many blocks fit together, or how to balance them, your child is making their mathematical and spatial awareness.  

#3 Art Projects

When your child gets creative with paints or crayons, they’re not just creating visual art but also learning a new language to express their thoughts and feelings. Art is also a way to consolidate learning, compose a story or articulate emotions. 

A collaborative art project has the added benefit of being a creative and social space for co-learning and idea-sharing.

#4 Science Experiments

Simple science experiments are super fun and educational. Mixing ingredients or seeing what floats and sinks can introduce your child to the wonders of science in a way that is relevant to them. Give your child some flour and water, and let them see what happens!

Experiments are the perfect place to ask and answer scientific questions. It also introduces the science process skills crucial in primary and secondary school. 

#5 Games

Board games or card games aren’t just for rainy days. They’re great for practising maths skills like counting, and they also teach kids about turn-taking, rules and fair play.

Outdoor games can get our children actively moving and exercising without realising it! They socialise and mix with others while also learning valuable skills.  

Besides working out their bodies, their brains get a big workout, too, as they have to navigate through space, manipulate objects (like a ball or racket) and engage in moto-planning & sequencing. 

#6 Cooking Activities

Cooking activities are a yummy way to learn. Following a recipe can introduce your child to maths and science concepts while teaching them essential life skills like following steps and understanding cause and effect.

Cooking for others is a perfect way to nurture the value of giving. Cooking is almost always a social activity and promotes interaction.  

Eating and sharing our products will give your child a scene of accomplishment and make them feel so proud 🙂

#7 Outdoor Play

Outdoor play is more than just a chance to burn off energy. Whether running, climbing, swinging, or playing a game with friends, your kids are building physical skills and getting to know their environment.

Outdoor play naturally flows into game-play. Children are famously inventive, and before you know it, they have created a fun group game–watch and see. Imagine all the social skills they learn as they invent games equipped only with imagination, some found items and friends!

#8 Music and Movement

Singing and dancing can do more than brighten your child’s day. It can also help them recognise rhythms, improve coordination, and creatively express themselves. Go ahead and belt along with them!

Sings songs and changing the lyrics is not only hilarious but also builds language skills like rhyming and puns. Singing with friends (especially around a campfire) can be memories that last a lifetime!

Benefits of Play-Based Learning

two preschoolers creating art

Immersing your child in a play-based learning environment at home or school can be highly beneficial. How so? Let’s break them down so you can see how impactful play can be for your child’s development.

Encourages Creativity and Imagination

Play naturally stirs up creativity and imagination in children. Unlike didactic activities, play allows our children to explore and express their unique ideas and imagination. In a world dominated by screens and 2-dimensional reality, play allows children access to that which is authentic and organic. Children form genuine friendships and solid relationships.

Promotes Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking Skills

Play is an excellent platform for developing problem-solving and critical thinking skills in kindergarten children. As they figure out how to use different toys or navigate play scenarios, they sharpen these essential skills without realising it.

Watch a child at play; you will see non-stop problem-solving, negotiation, adaptability and inventive thinking.

Encourages Self-Directed Learning

By encouraging children to learn at their own pace, play empowers them to learn in ways that make sense. This form of self-directed learning is especially beneficial for kids who find traditional structured learning too stifling and boring. Nurturing life-long learners starts here!

Celebrates Diverse Learning Styles and Abilities

Open-ended, play-based learning allows children to bring their perspectives and ideas to the table. This approach acknowledges and celebrates individual learning styles and abilities, making learning a more personalised and enjoyable experience. An environment that celebrates our children’s diverse learning styles and skills is rich and enriching.

Develops Social Skills

Not enough can be said about the benefits of play for social-emotional development. Children who play a lot get lots of practice interacting, sharing, taking turns, and resolving conflicts. These are all crucial life-long and transferable skills.

Increases Physical Activity

Children are naturally active learners, and play is a fun and meaningful way to get moving. This is particularly beneficial for kinesthetic learners, who learn best through physical activity. Passive learning is less effective than active learning that engages the “hands, head and heart”–i.e. the whole child.  

Enhances Language Skills

Play promotes language development, whether quietly with a friend or in a large group. Children at play will be talking and listening to others constantly in a most natural and engaging way. Besides verbal communication, children at play always learn to read non-verbal social cues. They are also learning to negotiate and collaborate with others.

Increases Self-Esteem

When kids see what they can create and accomplish through play, it boosts their self-esteem. They take pride in their creations and achievements, which builds their confidence. All children, regardless of their ability, can contribute towards play, which naturally builds their self-confidence. This may be especially so for our more shy or introverted friends.    

Brings Joy

And, of course, let’s not forget about joy! The happiness children derive from play—whether from inventing a game or creating imaginative scenarios—forms precious memories that last a lifetime. It’s a powerful reminder that learning can be delightful and fun.

Play-Based Learning in a Kindergarten: How Heartfield Does It

A boy enjoying sensory play

Curious to know what a play-based kindergarten looks like? Let us share how play-based learning looks at Heartfield Kindergarten.

Imagine your child learning about the importance of trees by reading, observing, exploring, studying, drawing and writing about them. We call this play because, to us, this is much more than just moving toys about. Play for Heartfield means thinking, imagining, questioning, hypothesising, creating, experimenting, practising and mastering. Most of all, play is learning!

Children are not the only ones who play; athletes and musicians play. And for them, playing means practising and mastering. When children are at play, they engage all of themselves–their physical self, cognition and emotions. This holistic approach means our children are fully invested in what they do at school.

One of the greatest benefits of learning through play is that it is open-ended. Children respond better when they have a “voice” and influence on the outcome of a project or when their scientific questions are investigated. What better way to instil an intrinsic love for learning?

Child-directed learning, however, does not diminish the educator’s role in the learning process. Here, the teachers work extra hard to facilitate and guide the project. When teachers ask the right questions, we can spark new ideas.

Another benefit of play-based learning is its effect on language development. A play environment is filled with rich and complex conversations. Playing involves working with others, and working together requires communication! Here, children learn instantly that their words, gestures, and scribbles affect an outcome, encouraging them to use their language skills.

One of the concerns we have in Singapore is learning the Chinese language. Play is the perfect way to overcome any anxiety over this. Picture children role-playing a noodle shop with their Mandarin Teacher. The children will create a menu, place or take orders and prepare and serve the suitable dish. The teacher, playing the part of a customer, can naturally correct the children’s language while role-playing with the children. This is how language is best acquired. 

Similarly, mathematical concepts can be discovered through games and scenarios. Opening a grocery shop or building a castle requires calculations, planning, logic and reasoning.  

Play leads to scientific inquiry too. Children trying to blow the best bubbles, “play around” with the ingredients to find the best ratio of water to soap!  

Through all this, children begin to see that learning is fun! It is not intense nor stressful but successful! They love to learn and want to learn more. School becomes a hive of activity, energy and joy. Teachers are their guides and facilitators!

Therefore, children who learn through play have a sense of confidence that goes beyond affirmation stickers and “well-done”s. Theirs is a deeply embedded conviction that they are capable, invested and communicative learners! Isn’t this what education should be all about?
We would love to show you our children hard at play and hope to share how learning happens through our activities in our natural and homey setting. Please call us at +65 6835 2354, or email info@HeartfieldKindergarten.com or visit our contact page for more details.

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