Take a child who is getting to grips with numbers. They might be able to count from one to ten if they’ve memorised the numbers by rote. But they can’t put that knowledge into practice if their understanding is only surface level. If, instead, that child pretends to be a shopkeeper, they can count goods and work out how much change to give. Suddenly they have a much deeper understanding, that can spur them on in the classroom, too.
Playing adds depth to those surface skills, adding meaning that lets children combine facts with what they know of the real world.
What’s more, play helps children build on knowledge they already have and learn to learn – making it easier to pick up even more skills next time
To go beyond the surface, make children the main characters
From board games to construction to role-playing, there’s an infinite number of ways to play. So how can grown-ups make sure they guide children to get the most from it? The answer: tune in to what a child needs in the moment.
Agency is a key ingredient to successful learning. That means giving children the power make their own choices, so they get to be as hands-on - and minds-on - as possible. The degree of agency that a child needs in any play activity will vary based on many factors, including whether there is a learning goal. A supportive adult should observe closely, follow the child’s lead, and be ready to support them if necessary. Just as the degree of agency will vary from activity-to-activity, so will the role of the adult. Sometimes it will be best for them to sit back and relax while the child takes the lead, while other play activities will benefit from adults taking on the role of a guide, mentor, or even cheerleader.