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What is play-based learning?

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

Here I will go into detail about how children learn at Busy Bodies and what they have the opportunity to learn on a daily basis. Interwoven into this will be a lovely example from today.

In the UK we have a concrete learning framework in place which all nurseries must follow. This is the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage. You will find a copy of this document in every nursery up and down the land and we all have to follow every sentence in the guidelines. Beyond the guidelines though, in the space inbetween, Early Years Owners and their team are able to create their own unique style of setting. This is why no two settings are the same. Each Owner and the team has a unique vision or idea, they have different experiences and levels of knowledge and confidence. As each setting is different, so is every family different and therefore it is important to find a setting that matches your ideas for good quality childcare and you feel comfortable and confident with the setting.

Now we have explained how each setting is different let me go into more details about ours. The photographs on this blog were from today and almost sum up our pedagogy (teaching and learning method) perfectly, as you will hopefully see.

What is our approach?

Here at Busy Bodies we have a Social Constructivist pedagogy where we put the child at the centre of the learning and place a high value on collaboration, interactions and relationships. So each unique child is the centre point of how we teach them, what we teach them and are key to the way the room is created and the resources we choose. Constructivism is a theory that people learn through experiences and reflection. The social aspect of our pedagogy comes from an understanding that children are naturally social and have an innate, natural desire to communicate with others.

My own experiences in Early Years as well as reading lots of research and being inspired by various theorists and approaches over the years has led me to believe that this is the best approach to Early Years Education.

What exactly is play-based learning?

Play-based learning is a type of early childhood education based on child-led and open-ended play. If you’re picturing preschoolers finger painting or ‘playing house’, you’re spot on.

Play itself is a voluntary, enjoyable activity with no purpose or end goal. Believe it or not, activities like this lay the foundation for a child to become a curious and excited learner later in life. Play-based learning helps children develop social skills, motivation to learn, and even language and numeracy skills. Taking initiative, focused attention, and curiosity about the world are all a part of play.

So how does this impact the children and what are they learning?

Every day at Busy Bodies we have an activity prepared and out for the children to explore if they wish. This may be an adult led activity such as a cooking activity, maths activity, etc. Or, what is most often the case, it is activity that is there for the children to explore if they wish.

Children learn best when they are happy and enjoying themselves. Neuroimaging studies and measurement of brain chemical transmitters reveal that childrens comfort level can influence information transmission and storage in the brain (Thanos et al., 1999). When children are engaged and motivated and feel minimal stress, information flows freely through the affective filter in the amygdala and they achieve higher levels of cognition, make connections, and experience “aha” moments. Such learning comes not from quiet classrooms and often not from adult led activities, but from settings with an atmosphere of exuberant discovery (Kohn, 2004). But that is enough theory....the key is happy children are learning children.

The main component of our practice that I have touched on in previous videos and in posts and blogs is we put great emphasis on the physical and emotional environment. We have carefully planned out the room layout and considered every resource to ensure that children have a variety of resources in order to learn and work collaboratively together. We see the environment as a teacher. This idea is borrowed from the Reggio Approach (which I will write all about one day) and is central to the learning that takes place at Busy Bodies as well as the enjoyment of all the children.

So as you can see from the photographs from today we had a group of children who wanted to build the biggest ramp they possible could. They found the resources themselves and worked collaboratively to put the ramp together. A variety of ages of children were involved, all at different stages of development. Myself and Emily were on hand to offer suggestions, question why they are doing certain things and providing opportunity for the children to think deeper about what may happen next. The key though is a lot of the teaching and learning that was taking place was peer to peer. So each child was working with other children to achieve an end result for themselves and at times, the group as a whole. Communication was none stop, patience was on display, sharing, working together, making predictions, trying things out and working out new and different ways of doing things. At times like this as an Early Years Educator you stand back, take observations and teach when a 'teachable moment' occurs. Now the children were not learning how to write their name or other school skills but in our opinion what they are learning is the foundation to those skills and as or more important. In order to achieve at school you must be able to work alongside and with peers. You must be able to take turns and manage your behaviour in light of your peers thoughts and needs. Choices were being made, errors were made and then they tested new ideas all in an environment where they feel comfortable to do so. These skills were being developed today and every day at Busy Bodies. This was just one activity that was taking place in one corner of the of our environment. The same thing with other Early Years Educators on hand was happening in other areas of the setting. This is how children learn at Busy Bodies, with their peers, at an activity of their choosing with an adult on hand to teach them when they need to. During these child led moments as Educators we can introduce numbers, math concepts, language, writing, and the list goes on and on. These ideas and concepts are taught best when the child is engaged in an activity they are enjoying as studies have shown they are then more likely to retain that information. Friedrich Froebel believed that all learning is linked and you can see that in the activity today. It was not one simple goal, concept or target we were aiming for today but instead we saw a spectrum of learning taking place across a variety of areas.

In answer to the question they are learning everything they need to learn in order to fully flourish as an individual and meet their own unique full potential. When it is child led in this way their is no universal target that all children must reach, no universal end goal - instead we are all embarked on a unique journey towards our own full potential. And, it is that unique journey that we celebrate every day.

“Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein

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