Play matters: Supporting play-based learning

Play matters: Supporting play-based learning

Play based learning or learning through play is a term used by educationist and psychologist to describe how a child can learn to make sense of the world around them through play.  

This form of learning has many positive outcomes on the child’s physical and mental development and scope of learning. It also teaches little ones skills to succeed in a competitive world.  While research has shown over and over again that children’s brains are developed by play, the question that parents often are left wondering with is how to support play based learning. 

Let’s first understand what play-based learning is all about.

What is play-based learning? 

All of us love to play, and more so children of pre-school age. Through such a program where play is used as a medium of learning, children use their minds to experiment, explore, discover and solve problems imaginatively and in a playful way. 

Such a teaching method involves active interaction between child and teacher. Here, the teacher is the facilitator and encourages the child to learn through interactions that, over time, stretch the child’s thinking to higher levels than traditional learning does. 

Take, for instance, building blocks. The teacher can use these blocks to ask children questions that spur them to solve problems, hypothesize and predict outcomes. Through hands-on learning methods, the teacher can also raise the child’s awareness level to maths, literacy and science concepts. Overall, this is a system of learning with positive outcomes for the child in their early years of learning.

Benefits of play-based learning

The play-based learning system is unique for its free play and guided play, with an intent to teach. In the constructive play mode, kids learn to solve problems and cooperate with others, and do maths and pick up spatial concepts. 

Play-based learning stimulates a child’s mind for exploration and they develop a spirit of inquiry. This spurs them to be very familiar with their environment, have better concentration. A child begins to think in ways essential for a learner of this century, with skills like problem-solving, analysis, evaluation, application of knowledge and the use of creativity.

Children of play-based learning programs also pick up positive learning attitudes, such as curiosity, enthusiasm, imagination and persistence. These skills cannot be learnt through the traditional rote learning type of education which depends largely on remembering facts. 

By teachers taking the lead in this inquiry-led play, children also pick up the necessary social skills, such as sharing, cooperating, being responsive to ideas, negotiating and finding solutions to conflicts. 

When such children are motivated and interested in all that’s around them, teachers can take this forward by guiding them to explore new concepts and ideas. In this play way, kids pick up important academic skills and learning. 

Largely, there are four important skills you can look out for in your child who’s put through a play-based program:


Good language skills


By exposing a child to active play right from their early years, they can pick up good language skills. As children at pre-school stage play with peers and have some exposure to adults, their vocabulary grows. To make this happen, adults should ask kids questions, talk to them often and teach them difficult words. Through the play-based learning method, all of these happen naturally. The child learns because they it enjoyable and relevant to their needs and interests. 


Supports pre-literacy skills


A child can develop pre-literacy skills by taking part in play that’s set to music and rhyme. By singing songs and reciting rhythmical poems, they becomes literate as their memorisation skills and their ability to differentiate between sounds becomes more distinct. 


Develops emotional and social skills


By engaging in play regularly, a child develops social and emotional skills. Children can be taught to play circle and cooperative games which not only make them happy but they can also relate their experiences with his peers. These pursuits play help the child develop a sense of community belonging. Without such a feeling of connectedness, children cannot be drawn into learning.  

Children also develop good relationships which is associated with play-based learning. As children find comfort in getting along with their friends, they use words to speak out their needs, cooperate with others and resolve conflicts. 

When children experience and learn more about their feelings, they learn about empathy. The need for kids to take part in skits and plays to show myriad ways of showing empathy and caring. One example of this is for kids to hug their teddy bears or say “teddy is hungry.” 


  • Children develop imagination and creativity


With the help of imagination, kids find solutions to the problems they come across. By encouraging the development of imagination, kids develop basic curiosity and become good problem-solvers. 

Types of play

Play helps kids develop self-worth, several skills and the ability to concentrate. Apart from these, by putting playthings in their path, here’s how they can help children develop:

    • Sand and water play: These can be the initial stages to learning concepts of science and maths. 


  • Dough and clay: This can help children draw and paint, play with dolls and express their feelings. 
  • Building blocks, jigsaws and shape sorters: These help children differentiate between shapes and sizes and develop logic in the long-term. 


  • Ball games, climbing, running and dancing: Children develop strength, body movement, flexibility and coordination.  

Ways to support play based learning at home 

    1. Switch of all gadgets: While using technology to compliment learning is ok, do not let your child get totally addicted to tablets and mobiles, even if it for teaching/learning purposes. There is plenty of evidence and research to show that over usage of electronics (screen time) can hamper a child’s brain and how they process information. So make sure to keep these devices away and limit their use by kids.


  • Give young kids more time to play. Provide enough amount of time, especially for young children to just play. Let them self-regulate what they want to do explore. 
  • Give your child time to play alone. While it’s tempting to tell your child what to do, sometimes let them just do what they want to do. 
  • Follow their lead. When you are playing with them, do not get into a ‘do as I tell you mode’, instead, follow their lead. Let them tell you what to do, get down to their level. This helps build self-confidence and leadership skills. It also provides you and your child with uninterrupted, quality time, where a child is not worried about being scolded or corrected.


  1. Ask questions. When you play with them or you observe them playing, ask them questions. Why they are doing it or maybe even introduce a new word or concept related to that play. For example, when they are playing with coloured dough, you may want to tell them about different colours or even different states of matter.
  2. Get them to play with different things. Get the jig saw puzzles, or play dough or even paints to add interest and generate curiosity.  You can also share some household items with them such as a small vessel, a waste paper basket or even a cushion. 
  3. Go outside and play. Enjoy the outdoors, go to a park nearby. Let them run around and explore the world around them. 
  4. Get them to play with other kids. This is a great way to help them build friendship, learn to cooperate, to develop empathy, to negotiate and to appreciate diversity. 


Play-based learning opens a child’s mind in untold ways, making a child more receptive to his/her environment. This in turn can provide a strong foundation for success later in life. Play based learning helps develop socially knowledgeable learners who are able to handle challenges, solve problems and create solutions. So help your child learn and have fun while do it!


Good luck and happy parenting!

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