Learning through play

July 16, 2021

Learning to be the thinker and tinkerer of tomorrow.

Play comes naturally to tamariki - right from our tiniest babies first discovering their hands, to our toddlers pottering about and transporting their ‘treasures’, immersed in their imagination. It is about more than ‘fun’, and it is never “just playing”. Spontaneous, self-chosen play is how our children make sense of their world, and of themselves. Tamariki learn through play.

A playing brain is a busy brain. It is learning in the present and setting the foundations for a lifelong love of learning. Play is something active: the imagination swirls, ideas burst forth, and hands get busy bringing possibilities to life. Tamariki take ownership as the decision-maker and action taker - a big deal for a little person!

We all know that learning is in the doing. Children learn to make decisions by making them, how to express ideas by expressing them, and about their emotions as they experience them. Play offers our children all of this in a way that is natural, non-pressured, and self-motivating. It goes further - they learn about the properties of materials by exploring them, and about how ‘life works’ by playing out scenarios. We simply can’t underestimate the importance of play in early childhood

Tamariki at play are driven by their own questions: 

  • What can I use this for?

  • Do I need anything else?

  • How can I make this work in this space?

  • How does this relate to what I know?

  • What happens if….

  • What now? What next?

When other children are involved (or even nearby), a new set of questions (and thus learning) come in about whether to include others, how to share ideas, solve problems, and negotiate when multiple play suggestions are ‘in the mix’. None of these skills can be learned solely by listening to instructions or hearing stories about sharing, turn taking and friendship. They have to be lived, practiced and refined. Play is absolutely the way!

When tamariki are engaged in play, they are covering all the bases: no area of development is left untouched. Their emotional, cognitive, physical and social skills all get a workout, not to mention the literacy and numeracy that is integrated so effortlessly as they play out their understanding of real life experiences. Children are driven to play and are hard-wired for learning - these aren’t separate entities. Learning can be playful, and play is learning.

Play builds resourcefulness and resilience. Isn’t this what we want our children to develop for the long-term? Tamariki who play now will be the thinkers and the tinkerers of tomorrow. They’ll have knowledge, yes, but even more so they’ll know how to learn. Their kete will be packed with the critical thinking skills, creativity, persistence, drive, wonder, and confidence to pour their heads, hands and hearts into whatever they choose to do.

Children learning through play are flourishing in the present and laying the most beautiful foundation for the future.

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