New website promotes play-based learning

Published on Tuesday, 12 October 2021
Last updated on Monday, 11 October 2021

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While families with young children recognise the importance of play, they don’t always understand the connection between play and their child’s learning and development.

To fill the gap and support families to provide fun and meaningful play-based learning opportunities, child care provider BestStart has launched a new interactive website BestStart’s 16 Areas of Play.

Easy to navigate and a great resource for parents and educators, BestStart’s 16 Areas of Play demonstrates how play goes beyond just fun and games, revealing how different types of play help children to develop thriving brains, bodies, and social and emotional skills.

“We want to share with parents what learning happens as their children play and how they can also use play to support their child’s growth and development,” says Fiona Hughes, Deputy Chief Executive of BestStart.

“BestStart’s 16 Areas of Play will also be a handy tool for teachers to demonstrate the value of early learning to whānau. It makes learning and teaching visible, outlining how playing in early childhood education prepares children for the next stage of their learning journey.”

Created in partnership with BestStart’s Professional Practice Leader, Dr Barbara Backshall, who has more than 40 years’ experience in early childhood education, the website features 16 specific areas of play-based activity.

Each section includes a brief, in-depth video with evidence-based guidance on how “Learning and development” can thrive during specific types of play activities.

For families the section “Continuing learning at home’ presents useful ideas to strengthen learning through play, including the promotion of positive behaviours such as exploration, interaction and challenges. Also included are tips and instructions for specific activities as well as a collection of BestStart Learning Stories.

For each play activity, Dr Backshall outlines how a child’s play develops specific skills such as numeracy, literacy, risk-taking and problem-solving. For example in play like Puzzles (Panga), Sand (Onepū) or Water (Korikori wai), the skills developed are:

  • Finger painting and holding a brush sets the foundation for learning to write
  • Through water play, children learn about evaporation and the weather
  • Blocks can teach perseverance as well as engineering concepts like balance, gravity and angles
  • Carpentry is maths in action as children measure for size, count how many pieces of wood and other materials they may need.

Children learn best when they have the time, space and support to explore, experiment and try things out.  The website covers rich ground with a diverse collection of play activities including creative Family/Dramatic Play (Ngā Whakaari ā-whānau) and Books and Storytelling Props 

(Pūrākau pānui pukapuka, tuhi, whakarongo, korero) through to areas like Messy Play (Korihori pōrehe) and Manipulative Play (Mahi ā-ringa).

Research shows how play creates powerful learning opportunities across all areas of development. Though when children choose to play, they are not thinking “Now I am going to learn something from this activity.” But, when educators and families understand and value what is happening during play, there’s an opportunity to promote and extend a child’s learning at home.

Development and learning are complex and holistic, and yet skills across all developmental domains can be encouraged through play, including motor, cognitive and social and emotional skills. Indeed, in playful experiences, children tap a breadth of skills at any one time.

Educators can tap into the value of BestStart’s 16 Areas of Play and promote the website to their families for the purpose of communicating the value of play. The website can provide guidance for families and share important knowledge to help them actively support their child’s development.

Why it’s important to share play-based learning tips and activities with families

A growing body of literature emphasises the importance of parental play beliefs in relation to parents’ engagement in their children’s play, the support they provide, as well as the ways in which parents arrange learning environments and create opportunities for play in the home.

Parents who acknowledge the value of play in development are more likely to facilitate it by supplying numerous play materials to promote play opportunities, devote their time in designing play initiation activities and playing with their children.

Also, parents supporting the developmental significance of play see their participation and involvement in their children’s play as necessary.

Research also shows parental engagement in their children’s play is associated with the acquisition of pro-social behaviours, improvement in cognitive skills, and better emotional regulation.

Cultural shifts, including less parent engagement because of parents working full-time, busy lifestyles, and more digital distractions, have limited the opportunities for children to play. And, according to the American Association of Paediatrics, these factors may negatively affect school readiness, children’s healthy adjustment, and the development of important executive functioning skills.

Playing with children adds value not only for the child but also for families, who can rediscover the joy of their own childhood and rejuvenate themselves. Play enables children and adults to be passionately and totally immersed in an activity of their choice and to experience intense joy, much as athletes do when they are engaging in their chosen sport.

Most importantly, play is an opportunity for parents to engage with their children by observing and understanding nonverbal behaviour in young infants, participating in serve-and-return exchanges, or sharing the joy and witnessing the wonder of discovery and learning.

Play not only provides opportunities for fostering children’s curiosity, self-regulation skills, language development, and imagination but also promotes interactions between children and parents, which is a crucial element of healthy relationships.

References and further resources:

UNICEF: Learning through play Want creative, curious, healthier children? Let them play

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