Play-based Learning Resources

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE.

Being in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic has afforded time for self-directed professional learning. For those of you who have registered for the course on play-based learning here is the collection of resources that I referenced. This collection should be helpful to anyone interested in learning more about play-based learning. The first two featured resources are actually textbooks, that I co-authored with Beverlie Dietze. Playing and Learning in Early Childhood Education and Outdoor and Nature Play in Early Childhood Education.

Learning about play should start with defining the term, “play”. In searching for a definition of play, I appreciate the work of Peter Gray (2008) who defines play as:

  • Self-chosen and self-directed.
  • An activity in which means are more valued than ends.
  • Having a structure, or rules, which are not dictated by physical necessity but emanate from the minds of the players.
  • Imaginative, non-literal, mentally removed in some way from “real” or “serious” life.
  • Involving an active, alert, but non-stressed frame of mind.

In Ontario, The Early Childhood Educators Act, 2007 (the ECE Act) defines the practice of early childhood education as, the planning and delivery of inclusive play-based learning and care programs for children in order to promote the well-being and holistic development of children. The Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice states that the it the responsibility of registered early childhood educators make the well-being, learning and care of children their foremost responsibility. They value the rights of children and create learning environments where all children can experience a sense of belonging and inclusion. Registered early childhood educators foster children’s joy of learning through child-centred and play-based pedagogy. There are so many resources that support the practice of early childhood education. If you click on the images below, you will find the sources recommended.

The Council for Ministers of Education Canada (CMEC) has this wonderful statement on play-based learning that states that learning through play is supported by science, experts, parents and children and that when children are playing, they are learning. Play expands intelligence, stimulates imagination and encourages creative problem-solving. Play helps children to develop confidence, self-esteem and an overall positive attitude toward learning. There are multiple and valuable benefits to play-based learning!

Learning through Play: A Review of the Evidence lists the characteristics of play-based learning as:

  • Joyful
  • Meaningful
  • Actively Engaging
  • Iterative
  • Socially Interactive

It is a wonderful resource that reinforces with evidence that children are born to learn through play.

Also supported by the Lego Foundation, is Learning through Play: Strengthening Learning through Play in Early Childhood Education Programmes. This resource provides the definitions of what is meant by play in early childhood, followed by key points of why learning through play is so important. Also included is a discussion of the obstacles that we may face when making a case for play-based learning and proposes strategies to address the obstacles.

Another resource that supports play-based learning comes from the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA, 2018). The CPHA laments that children’s access to unstructured play is increasingly limited and calls upon us to improve children’s access to unstructured play as a source of learning and in support of development.

While searching for resources, I was very pleased to find another publication from the Council for Ministers of Education Canada (CMEC). In Canada, there are many different provincial early learning frameworks and they do support play-based learning, but this is a national perspective that states that  “learning through play capitalizes on children’s natural curiosity and exuberance” (CMEC, 2014, p. 14).

I know that part of the role of the early childhood educator is to help others understand the importance of play-based learning. Here is another resource specifically designed for that purpose. It really helps families understand that children do learn through play.

The Ontario Science Centre has a four-part video series available called “How to get into Play-Based Learning. Part one: What is Play is embedded above and the others in the series can be accessed here.

Let the children play! This resource tells us that play is persistently undervalued, and children’s opportunities for uninterrupted free play – both indoors and out – are under threat. For the sake of play and because play is nature’s answer to early learning, we all need to be play advocates. There is too much focus on structured educational and recreational activities, leaving little time for participation in open-ended, self-initiated free play.

The next resource that I am sharing is also from my province and it is focused on middle childhood. Play doesn’t stop in the early years. Play is important for all ages.

Opportunities for adventurous, unstructured outdoor play and land-based activities can help children get outside, be active and learn how to assess and take managed risks. We need to create opportunities for children to engage in safe and independent exploration of our communities and natural world (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2017, p. 26).

The final resource that I am sharing was shared with me recently. It speaks to the importance of play in this time of crisis. Children learn through play. So let children play especially now!

Hopefully, this list of resources will help you in your important role as an advocate of children’s play. Play on!