We Need to Define Play-Based Learning

In my post about a blog schedule, I mentioned I wanted to write about where my realm of teaching is currently in my life- Working with my children through their own process, which is play. Children, especially young children, make the most connections and advances when given the opportunity to play and learn in their own way. However, I feel this idea has been skewed over the years, and play-based learning needs to be defined. 

Lexico defines play as to: “engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.” Play is for enjoyment and recreation

Play is not a task given to the child. 

Play is child-led. 

Play does not have a definitive ending. 

Play does end when the child decides. 

We are so quick to structure the day for kids, placing them in classes and providing them with educational activities, calling it play-based learning because they are active and having fun. However, this makes learning a task and not over when the child is done, but when the adult says it is. Do not get me wrong- There is a time and a place for structured learning with agendas and goals, but this should never be categorized as “play-based learning”, regardless of how “fun” it may seem. 

Play is a child using their imagination to build, create, and move. 

Play is not a child going through structured stations in the classroom. 

Play is how children grow and learn. Sara said it best in her post over at happinessishereblog.com, “be mindful of your agenda. Children should feel free to play and use what is available however they like, with no expectations. Maybe Johnny paints a picture of a flower with the paints you left out for him. Maybe he experiments with mixing colours. Or maybe he just wants to squirt the paint in his belly button. It doesn’t matter, because it’s his choice. He is learning through play, and that is always surprising and beautiful to watch.” 

It’s surprising and beautiful to watch because children will not make the same decisions in situations as we would make because they are aware of what they need and how they want to accomplish it. Watching the discovery happen in children can be magical if they are given the opportunity.

Let’s let the children be kids a little longer, using their imaginations a little more. Let’s let them play.    

Photo Credit: deathtothestockphoto.com

6 Replies to “We Need to Define Play-Based Learning”

  1. There is so much that really resonated with me here, and how we run our play-based classroom. I will admit that I would at least wonder why Johnny squirted the paint in his belly button, 🙂 but yes, I am a huge proponent of this real play. I wonder then why play seems to be defined differently in education. Why are more people not speaking out for this actual play?


    1. Aviva! Thank you for your comment! I am sure you have so much insight on this subject teaching Kindergarten. Those littles require so much play in their lives, which can look bad coming from such a work-based society! Play is work for a child, and we need to remember and respect that. I think we need more push for play in schools! I know so many schools say recess is a necessity now, not a privilege, so it’s a start!
      Also, I too would wonder why Johnny squirted the paint in his belly button. It would be fun to watch and find out though!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *