What is play based learning, and how do I do it anyway?- Part 1

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Simply put, play based learning is learning that occurs naturally during exploration of an environment.  Obviously children are quite good at being play based learners all on their own.  It is up to the adults to take the natural ability and expand it in order to optimize their learning.    Too many times I’ve heard play based learning described as a process where the adult gives over all control to the child, when in fact the opposite is true.  As the adult you are ALWAYS in control of your child’s learning experience.  The choice comes in whether you are using that control in an intentional manner to maximize their experience, or if you are using it unintentionally, in a way that stunts your child’s learning potential.

The fact is, children are sponges.  All people are sponges really, the rate of absorption is just slower with some than others.   No matter what is going on in a child’s life, they are learning from it.  The questions we have to ask ourselves are “do I *want* my child learning these things?”  and “is this the kind of experience I want shaping my child’s mind?”.   If the answer is “no”, then you as the adult need to take control of the situation or environment and shift it.

The key to play based learning is not in controlling the child, it is in controlling the system.   As a parent you already know that you have very little control over your child.  That’s right, I said it, I have ZERO control over my child’s autonomous person.   And I don’t want control over him, I don’t want a robot, I want a thinking, feeling, expressive, interactive, learning, growing, living thing.  To allow that, I have to accept that I’m not in control of him.   But let’s talk about what I DO have control over as a parent (or as any caretaker).   I control his environment.   I choose what I allow into our home, and I choose what I want him to come into contact with on a regular basis.   I control the media he is exposed to, how often he’s exposed to it, and to a certain extent I control the people he comes into contact with.   For right now while he’s young, I have complete control over the experiences I want him to have, and those I choose to shelter him from.   And it’s my job as a parent to utilize this control and give him access to experiences, people, and environments that will help shape him into an effective and well functioning adult.  I utilize this control through consequences and limiting access, because why should I set him up for failure by allowing exposure to things that will cause behavior problems?  While I can’t control him I do have expectations as to his behavior, and I work with him on what is acceptable behavior for a member of our family, and ultimately for a member of a functioning society.

There are three primary components for a successful play based learning system.  I’ll talk about each of these in more depth throughout this series, but here’s a basic overview.

A rich and engaging environment.

  • Well organized
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • play spaces are plentiful and accessible
  • Encourages open ended and expressive play

An engaged and responsive facilitator

  • A facilitator that is aware of the environment, experiences, and needs of the child
  • Ongoing dialogue about experiences and observations

Intentionally planned experiences

  • experiences that introduce concepts in a way that encourages exploration

Just in these short descriptions you can see the basis for successful play based learning.  “Engaged, engaging, accessible, expressive, awareness, experiences”.    I look forward to exploring these concepts in depth with you all this week!   For now I have some engaging of my own to do, tonight Geekling and I start homeschool-  oh yes, I’m that parent.  We’re starting on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend to make wiggle room for fun activities later this week.


  1. Pingback: Play Based Learning Part 2- Setting up your environment | The Happy Home Mommy

  2. Pingback: Play Based Learning Part 3- An Attentive and Engaged Caretaker | The Happy Home Mommy

  3. Pingback: Play Based Learning Part 4- Interest driven activities and a well planned schedule | The Happy Home Mommy

  4. Pingback: Play Based Learning Part 2- Setting up your environment - The Happy Home Mommy

  5. Pingback: Play Based Learning Part 4- Interest driven activities and a well planned schedule - The Happy Home Mommy

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