“Play-based learning” is a phrase you will commonly hear associated with early childhood education. It is an approach that provides opportunities for children to actively and imaginatively engage with others and their environments. Play-based learning prepares children for their future and extends beyond intellectual skills. By understanding what play-based learning is and how it works, you can decide if a preschool programme in Singapore that offers this learning approach will fit your child.
Characteristics of play-based learning
Play-based learning is child-directed, enjoyable and process-oriented. Through free play, children can explore freely, allowing them to make mistakes without the fear of failure. This helps each learner discover their interests while collaborating with their peers and teachers throughout learning activities. Some key characteristics of play-based learning include:
Voluntary and self-motivated exploration
Enjoyable and engaging tasks, both physically and mentally
Flexible without objectives and process-oriented
Meaningful and relevant interactions
Social opportunities and collaborations
This way of learning is especially applicable for young children. Research shows that early childhood is the fastest and most important period of growth. Hence, it is important for educators to provide enriching experiences in preschool. The International Baccalaureate (IB) uses play-based learning as an important part of its Primary Years Programme (PYP) early years for children aged three to six.
Play-based learning in the classroom
There are many different ways play-based learning can unfold in the classroom. They generally fall into three main types of interactions:
Children choose what, when and how to play. Teachers will observe and ensure activities are safe but are not actively involved.
Example: Letting a child roleplay as a cook at a mud kitchen according to their storyline with other children.
Based on the children’s interests, teachers will brainstorm activities, provide materials and ask directive questions. Overall, children will still get to decide the direction of play, organise their materials and explore their interests deeper.
Example: Expanding upon a child’s interest in kitchens, teachers may transform the classroom into a cafe. Children may then decorate, create props and roleplay as staff or guests.
Teachers decide on the learning activity, which will often come with rules and learning objectives. However, children have the freedom to determine the theme or narrative of the activity.
Example: Teachers may encourage and guide children through a maths exercise that is fun and has set answers. For example, they may count how many cups are needed to serve customers at the classroom cafe.
Benefits of play-based learning
In a nutshell, play-based learning makes children happy and happy children learn better. Studies on the effectiveness of play-based learning find that it supports holistic development for children because the freedom of play motivates children and allows them to apply what they have learned in classrooms to real-world situations. Because of their happy experiences, children also grow to love the learning process instead of dreading it.
Play-based learning encourages children to make independent decisions like what games to play and which toys to use. This freedom helps them learn which options work best for them and how to make choices confidently and responsibly. Dealing with challenges themselves also teaches them self-regulation and creative problem-solving. These skills will be helpful in later education when they need to cope with stress and difficulties calmly and sensibly.
Develop Collaborative Skills
While playing together, children learn to communicate clearly to achieve common goals. They will have to share materials and if any conflicts arise, they practise negotiating and compromising. When faced with challenges, they learn to be empathetic and support their peers. These collaborative experiences in their early years will prepare them for group projects as they progress in school.
Opportunities to Reinforce Learning
Play helps children learn more effectively because it is based on their interests, making it a fun and engaging process for both the mind and body. Teachers can ask questions like, “How many chairs will we need for our cafe?” during play to practise and revise concepts already introduced in the classroom. Play also develops many cognitive skills like memory, attention and critical thinking.
Honing Motor Skills
Children can develop key fine and gross motor skills through play. At Nexus, learners have many opportunities to hone their motor skills, including indoor and outdoor play time and Physical Health Education (PHE) classes with specialist teachers. There is a large range of activities like running, jumping, sorting toys or even stacking blocks that become valuable contributions towards a child’s overall physical development.
Play-based Learning At Nexus
Nexus offers an IB preschool programme in Singapore that puts play-based learning at the core. Using the IB Early Years Programme, Nexus’ Early Years teachers specialise in early years education in international schools, catering to children of various nationalities. It also has a high adult-to-learner ratio, ensuring that there are many teachers that can guide and support individual learners.
Nexus provides regular opportunities for free play and combines that with mutually-directed play that incorporates inquiry-based learning to teach learners crucial skills. Nexus teachers also take great care to expand upon the learners’ interest. One of the Nursery teachers delved deeper into a learner’s interest in spiders and designed a “spider web” game that allowed learners to exercise their fine motor skills and use their vocabulary to describe the webs.
Early Years Learning Hub
The Nexus Early Years Learning Hub was a learning environment that was designed and built for learner-led play. The classrooms have flexible arrangements where learners and teachers can reconfigure their spaces by moving around the age-appropriate furniture and materials to organise their own play. There is also an outdoor playground with sand and water play areas, including an extension that leads to a double-storey treehouse.
Nexus believes in connecting with families so our learners have a consistent learning experience. We encourage parents to work with us to continue cultivating important habits at home, like letting their children pack their own bags to practise being independent. Our teachers also use Seesaw to share with parents what our learners are up to in school, and families may build on those learning experiences at home.
There are many reasons why you should use play-based learning: it is fun, develops children holistically and boosts learning. Schools are your partners in raising your child, so look out for preschools that use play-based learning when choosing a kindergarten or nursery for your child.