The Link between Play and Classroom Learning

There is a lot of conversation about the importance of play for young learners and whether we are giving our children enough time to play. The questions arise then as to what is play and what does it look like in a classroom?

When looking up the dictionary definition of play it gives a variety of definitions depending on the context in which it is used. It is difficult therefore to be specific about its meaning. What is agreed upon, however, is a number of criteria that describe what play looks like. To begin, we know that play is a pleasurable experience. It may include some frustrations and challenges, but by-and-large play is enjoyable. Play is engaging. Play can be social or independent; it requires decision making, problem solving, choice, simplicity and complexity. There are various types of play from symbolic play; pretend play that has meaning or uses objects that have meaning only to the player. Active play: that as it suggests, requires action and uses people, materials and the environment and free play which suggests freedom to choose the play. In each case the play may be independent or the player may invite others into the engagement.

There is a great deal of evidence and research that points towards the power of play as a learning instrument. If we think back to the definition and compare it to what it is we want from a learning engagement there are a number of similarities. We want the learning to be pleasurable, engaging, have layers of complexity, be collaborative, offer choices and so on. It seems logical therefore that play is an ideal tool to use to support and engage children in their learning. In the classroom the teacher considers the play and provides children with opportunities to make choices, socialize, explore, regulate emotions, solve problems, be creative, resilient and adapt to changing scenarios. Through their play children make links between what they know and understand about their world and what they experience in their play which naturally scaffolds their learning.

Schools choose the pedagogue by which children learn. Some schools prefer a ‘play-based’ or inquiry approach while others prefer a more instructional approach. While there has been decades of research into the question of which pedagogical approaches is best there is no easy answer. What is thought however is that learning should contain elements of play, art, music, movement and exploration that complement the more explicit learning that focusses on literacy and mathematics. There are many more influences that govern a child’s success in school, and each child brings a vast array of experiences to the learning environment. Children who have been supported in their social and emotion wellbeing in their school life however are found to have greater success and the research has shown that learning through play supports this balance.

Avondale Grammar School – Inspiring Hearts and Minds