The neuroscience of learning through play

Do you know that play builds brains? We look at research that shows how playful learning experiences lay the foundations for brain development

School children writing on the chalk board

Our brains literally change as we learn

In a sense, what we do is who we are. We now have a large – and growing – pool of evidence to show that learning through play is the best way to support learning. Children are natural scientists – they come into the world ready to experiment and learn through play. And they use what they discover to not only adapt the structure of their brains, but also strengthen the skills they need to continue being engaged, flexible learners for their whole lives.

The evidence is clear: there are five characteristics that support learning through play

We know that children (and adults!) learn best when:

  • their minds are actively engaged

  • they can meaningfully connect the play to their lives

  • they're socially interactive

  • they can test things out iteratively

  • there are no spoilers beforehand, making play surprising and joyful

How the five characteristics of playful learning experiences help children grow and thrive

Joyful
Meaningful
Actively engaging
Iterative
Socially interactive

Here’s a quick look at how these qualities help children build their brains as they play

Characteristics of playful learning
Girl looking at a glas with experiment

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