What is a play-based curriculum?

Toddler- and preschool-aged children learn through their 5 senses. They need to be able to touch, feel, smell, see, & taste. A play-based curriculum is derived from this concept.  Children learn by doing what they do best...playing.

Examples of play activities that promote learning: matching games & puzzles support fine-motor skills, social skills, & memory skills.  Creative expression such as painting, drawing, & coloring support fine-motor skills, self-discovery, & writing readiness.  Playdough, blocks and discovery activities develop perception, spacial reasoning & thinking skills. Books & stories support language development and reading readiness.  Musical instruments, songs, & finger plays provide visual stimulation, logical thinking, some physical movement.  Free play, creative play, and dramatic play teach cooperation, self-discovery, social skills and self-help.  Outdoor play encourages large-motor development, science, & social skills.

Children learn best in ways that are meaningful to them. For instance, a preschool child is not going to learn about apples by looking at a picture of an apple. They will, however, learn about an apple if you give them an apple. One of the favorite fall activities has been for students to bring in an apple to share.  It is encouraged for students to bring different kinds of apples.  From those apples there are several activities that Teacher Amy conducts over a week's time including apple art projects, making apple sauce, and cutting apart an apple to discover the inside core and seeds as an inquiry focused science activity.  Play based learning in preschool is about learning science and math through discovery and developing language skills, social skills, self-help skills, fine and gross motor skills through meaningful play activities.

 The Early Years Learning Framework defines play-based learning as: ‘A context for learning through which children organize and make sense of their social worlds, as they engage actively with people, objects and representations (DEEWR, 2009, p. 46). This definition links with the notions of belonging, being and becoming. One of the most important ways children make sense of their social worlds is through playing with others. Social play helps children to develop a sense of belonging in a group as they interact with others and learn how to negotiate rules for positive social interactions. The development of a positive sense of self is promoted through early play experiences because there are no wrong or right ways to do things. This freedom from rules helps children to feel confident and competent as learners and teachers of others.  Play provides opportunities for children to learn about themselves (their being) and others.

Cognitive and creativity outcomes: Play is associated with the development of intellectual skills and understandings. In play experiences children integrate emotions, thinking and motivation that establish neural connections critical to effective brain functioning (Lester & Russell, 2008). When children play they use imagination and imitation which requires complex cognitive or intellectual processes. The development of cognitive skills, including dispositions for learning (such as curiosity and persistence), memory and thinking skills, and language and literacy skills, have strong links to play (Bodrova & Leong, 2005)

Play is associated with the development of creative skills. Play fosters creativity of thought, imagination, strategies for problem solving and the development of divergent thinking ability (Lester & Russell, 2008, p. 34)

Social and emotional outcomes: Play is associated with the development of social and emotional skills and understandings. Research shows that play assists children in building social skills that support positive relationships. Playing also helps to teach children how to regulate their behaviour, and understand others’ feelings, as well as promoting a sense of independence. Early play experiences between adults and very young children have a central role in developing strong attachments in children (Lester & Russell, 2008). Emotional competence and empathy are developed through play experiences as children become aware of their own and others’ emotions, motivations and desires. Through collaborating and cooperating in play, children learn how to negotiate and problem solve their personal dilemmas.