School time: The magic of play-based learning

When helping your child prepare for school, a little bit of play-based learning goes a long, long way.

In today’s rush-rush, high-tech world, a parent’s role in preparing the platform for their child’s future learning is more important than ever. Play is often underestimated and underutilised, but play-based learning is so valuable and all parents have this tool at their disposal every day!

I would often see certain patterns emerge during my time in the classroom, and one was in relation to play. I noticed that the children whose parents chose to engage and create play opportunities for them prior to school (and during) were often the ones thriving in the classroom.

When mums and dads engage in structured play with their little ones, the multi-level layers of learning that occur are immeasurable. Play-with-a-purpose fosters so many fundamental skills for school, such as oral language skills – the basis of all literacy; social skills such as problem solving and conversational structures; cognitive skills such as questioning and investigating; and emotional intelligence. All of these skills can be developed during play, as play provides a safe environment for emotional and physical development.

With the introduction of the National Standards in Australia, the focus of a child’s first year has shifted and it is not all about play-based activities as it was in years gone by. The classroom dynamics have changed. Children are now being assessed and are expected to meet learning standards right from the get-go! This being said, there are a few Victorian schools that are reintroducing an hour of play-based learning each morning. This is a credit to them.

Child’s play can sometimes seem tedious or monotonous to us adults, but the secret for us is to fully immerse ourselves in it — that is, to be present for those 10 or so minutes and engage solely on the task. This quality attention infuses play with awesome energy and transforms the experience from mundane to magical!

My five favourite examples of play are:

  • Talk time. Purposeful chats (using your normal voice but with lots of expression). These regular conversations with your baby and toddler (without TV noise in the background) help build their oral language skills, which is the foundation for Literacy development.
  • Room roving. Taking time to explore, describe and play with various household items. Spend a few minutes in each room of the house. Changing rooms helps keep them engaged.
  • Nature hunt. Finding, touching and discussing natural items in your backyard or at the local park. Pausing for a minute to focus on a flower or leaf then sharing what you know about it and why you like it. It is important to move slowly, holding their focus on what you are talking about, as this develops their concentration skills and love of learning. As a follow-up, you may like to draw a picture of your outdoor discoveries and have them dictate a sentence to you about their experience.
  • Dress ups. Role plays are fantastic and so much fun, especially if you really immerse yourself in the character — even for a short while. It is a wonderful way to demonstrate good conversational skills and builds social and emotional skills.
  • Create a picture. Begin with a blank piece of paper and decide to make a zoo, sky, beach or park scene — somewhere that is familiar to them. Make a picture together using coloured paper, pencils, crayons, pipe-cleaners and so on. This helps children develop their fine motor skills and encourages creativity.

The 0-5 years are about building a strong foundation for future learning through lots of structured play. All of these regular bursts of play combined will greatly assist in raising a “school-savvy kid”.  The bonus is that we, as grown-ups, have the opportunity to let our hair down and have a bit of fun — all in the spirit of good-quality pre-school learning.

Until next time, happy playing!

About Rhiannon Colarossi

Rhiannon Colarossi is a teacher, blogger, mum of two young children and founder of The Wellbeing Web. After completing her teaching degree in 2001, Rhiannon spent 10 years teaching in the classroom. Before becoming a stay at home mum, she relished the role of school wellbeing Leader. Rhiannon is passionate about education and the “wellbeing ripple effect”. She created to inspire women to nurture their wellbeing, everyday, so they can function at their best — not only for themselves but also for the children in their lives.
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