Why I believe in Play Based Learning
Play provides an important ‘context for learning’ where learners are able to explore ideas, solve problems, make connections and engage with others. Play-based learning plays a crucial role in the development of skills
Through play we learn and adapt forms of communication; ways in which we represent and share information with others about our world. Any learner needs opportunities to use and apply newly obtained skills in real life situations. Learning through hands-on, practical and play-based experiences is providing those opportunities and create an environment that allows the learner to engage meaningfully and successfully.
As children we play and begin to engage with new concepts in our own pace and use our ideas and language in contexts that mirror real life, such as playing in the sandpit mimicking the adult world building roads and tunnels, houses, cities and shaping entire landscapes.
Learning is incidental—meaning it happens as a result of being in environments rich in stimuli without the need for direct instruction. When learners see any concepts used around them in meaningful ways and as part of their everyday experience they begin to internalise them. They begin to recognise elements and behaviour patterns and try to copy those elements plus their own ideas to experiment which then results in learning.
An environment that is rich in possibilities is therefore an important part of learning and teaching. The more versatile the environment containing all forms of communication such as the visual and performing arts as well as talking, listening and storytelling the more incidental learning will happen. Games can be such an environment that encourage the development of the learner’s sense of themselves as effective communicators and is likely to lead more naturally to an interest in any particular field. Those observations have been successfully reflected in the work and pedagogy of Maria Tecla Artemesia Montessori, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and Mauricio & Rebeca Wild.
What the sand-pit is to children is the makerspace to older learners.
Makerspaces (community-operated workspace) have evolved from hackerspaces. Defining a makerspace can be somewhat difficult due to the differences among spaces and activities, but the emphasis is on creating with technology. STEM education (science, technologly, engineering, math) has been quick to embrace these spaces and technologies, but it is important to stress that makerspaces are not for STEM activities only. Jeff Sturges 1 said “Beyond engineering and STEM, this is about creating creative people.”
From the sand-pit to makerspace to blended learning environments.
If we want the learner to make important connections and to transfer knowledge and understanding between experiences, then we need to think beyond a purely incidental approach. We deliberately prepare the environment; provide the resources and stimulus and then sit back to watch the result. Is it as simple as that? No, sometimes the educator needs to get involved and engage with the learner, this can happen in a blended learning environment where self motivated learning can be combined with scaffolding. This involvement, when it is deliberate, thoughtful and purposeful, can be thought of intentional teaching. Intentional teaching will involve spontaneous responses to learner’s activities where we take advantage of opportunities to talk about subjects and problems as they arise, as well as more carefully planned experiences that we have deliberately designed to introduce or extend an idea or concept. By providing learners with regular, ongoing opportunities to use their newly gained skills throughout the learning experiences we help to establish knowledge and positive dispositions and the ability to apply knowledge in practical and meaningful contexts.
"You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him discover it within himself."