Engaging Children Through Play-Based Learning

Children learn best through experiences that are fun and interesting to them. Play is an important and useful tool to help your child engage in purposeful and meaningful activities and to build relationships with others.

But what is play? Play is hard to define as there are a number of theories and types of play.

Play-based learning is described in the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) as ‘a context for learning through which children organise and make sense of their social worlds, as they actively engage with people, objects and representations’.

Young children’s ‘play’ allows them to explore, identify, negotiate, take risks and create meaning. The intellectual and cognitive benefits of playing have been well documented. Children who engage in quality play experiences are more likely to have well-developed memory skills, language development, and are able to regulate their behaviour, leading to enhanced school adjustment and academic learning.

Let’s look at some ways to encourage children to play:

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  • Get down on children’s eye level when you play together
  • Enter children’s play by following what they are interested in playing with
  • Imitate children’s actions, facial expressions or sounds they make
  • Make comments on what children are saying or doing
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  • Look at how children play with their toys and copy what they are doing
  • As children realise you are willing to do what they’re interested in, they will begin to let you join them in play
  • Be ‘playfully obstructive’ by either making a mistake or pretending that you don’t know what they want
[/su_column] [su_column size=”1/4″ center=”no” class=””]Communicating with children


  • Watch for signs that children may be trying to tell you what they want
    • It could be a quick look at you or the toy, touching, pointing or making a sound
  • Respond in a way that opens and encourages another opportunity for them to respond back to you again
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  • ‘Affect’ is how we express our emotions through tone of voice, gestures and facial expressions
  • Use pauses to build anticipation
    • Pausing what you are doing together creates opportunities for children to anticipate the game

Ready to put play-based learning into action?

Head to Growing Early Minds for activities, craft and other play-based learning ideas that support the development of physical, social, emotional and educational skills.

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Play Based Learning

  • Blowing bubbles

  • Peek-a-boo games

  • Musical instruments

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  • Water games

  • Play-doh or goop

  • Parachute games

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  • Sand play

  • Cause-and-effect toys

  • Slides, see-saws and swings



Article sources: Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA), Bodrova & Leong, Ahrens, G., Greenspan, S. I. & Wieder, S., Solomon, R., Weitzman, E & Pepper, Jan

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