Learning through play: what the science says

Do you know that play builds brains? We look at research that shows how playful learning experiences lay the foundations for brain development and develops 21st century skills

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 keeps mounting that play is the best way for children to learn – and thrive

From our earliest days, play is how we relate to the world, and to each other. When children have plenty of opportunities to learn playfully, they do what they do best: pursue their natural curiosity. And, as they do, they build skills and aptitudes they’ll keep for life. There’s a wealth of science behind our understanding of learning through play: studies in teaching and learning, play, and neuroscience. Here are three key things to take from the research.

Children are born to learn through play
Children should be in charge of their play and learning

Five key characteristics unlock playful learning

Research shows that people learn best from experiences that are joyful, that meaningfully connect the play to their lives, actively engaging, allow testing things iteratively and are socially interactive. Children won’t always experience all of those characteristics at the same time – and that’s fine. But it’s another reason children need lots of different kinds of play. Each strand helps them weave a strong and flexible tapestry of skills to use throughout their lives.

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

Actively engaging
Socially interactive
Girl looking at a glas with experiment

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Play unlocks essential skills

Our world never stops changing, so how do we prepare children to navigate it? We let them play. Children thrive on play. It’s also perfect practice for tomorrow. Given the chance to think, negotiate, adapt to new rules and try again when things don’t go to plan, children develop essential skills that’ll last a lifetime.

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Ready to play?

When children play, they learn. They solve problems, think strategically, relate to others, and manage life’s ups and downs. Play helps children learn how to learn – and love learning. We've gathered some of our favourite games. You can play them anywhere – using things you find at home.

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