Learning through Play
FocusWhat might be learned during play
- Knowledge is … scope of possible actions
- Knowing is … appropriate action
- Learner is … an intentional agent
- Learning is … developing
- Teaching is … varied according to conception of “play” – from abandoning to structuring
SynopsisPlay-Based Learning attends to what might be learned during play – a focus that, of course, is dependent on how “play” is defined. To that end, play is almost always considered to be agent-directed and intrinsically motivated. Commonly identified types/categories of play include:
- Play – activity that is done for its own sake – thus, spontaneous, voluntary, unstructured, pleasurable, and flexible. Depending on age, Play can involve interactions of body parts, with objects, with others, and/or with ideas.
Motor Skills – mastery of control and accuracy in deliberate bodily movements
- Phases of Motor Development (Jane E. Clark, 1990s) – a stage-based developmental model that separate mastery of motor skills into four phases:
- Reflexive Movement Phase – ages 0–1 year, characterized by involuntary movements that afford information about immediate surroundings
- Rudimentary Movement Phase – ages 1–2 years, characterized by shifts from involuntary to voluntary actions as one’s ability to control the body emerge
- Fundamental Movement Phase – ages 2–7 years, characterized by increased control of gross and fine motor skills
- Specialized Movement Phase – ages 7–on, characterized by progressive refinement of stability, locomotor, and manipulative skills that are combined and applied across ranges of activities
- Parten’s Six Stages of Play (Mildred Parton, 1920s) – a developmental progression of modes of Play that are suggested to emerge through the first five years of a child’s life
- Unoccupied Play – body motions engaged by infants and toddlers, typically with no deliberate purpose, but perhaps driven by feelings of pleasure and curiosity
- Independent Play (Solitary Play) – playing alone, disconnected from, uninfluenced by, and likely oblivious to others
- Onlooker Play – observing other agents at play, but not engaging in that play
- Parallel Play – playing beside but not with other agents, often with the same toys or oriented by the same goal
- Associative Play – playful interaction with other agents, but not necessarily for the same reasons
- Cooperative Play – play involving other agents that is oriented by a common purpose
- Exploratory Play – usually associated with toddlers and young children, a type of play that involves deliberate use, scrutiny, and testing of artifacts. In terms of personal growth, Exploratory Play is seen to contribute mainly to cognitive development.
- Functional Play – usually associated with infants and toddlers, the sort of play that, to the observer, appears to be engaged for its own sake and to be maintained for as long as it gives pleasure. In terms of personal growth, Functional Play is seen to contribute to cognitive, motor, and social-emotional development.
- Nature Play – unstructured, child-initiated play in natural areas and/or with non-domesticated lifeforms. In terms of personal growth, Functional Play is seen to contribute to cognitive and motor development, and especially to social-emotional development.
- Open-Ended Play – child-directed play that has few constraints apart from the limitations of the setting. Open-Ended Playis often associated with materials that can be used or shaped in many ways, such as building blocks, paper, playdough, and paint
- Symbolic Play (Joe Frost, 2000s) – the use of objects, actions, and/or ideas to stand in for other objects, actions, and/or ideas. Specific types of Symbolic Play include:
- Dramatic Play – a type of Symbolic Play in which one imitates another’s actions and speech
- Pretend Play – a type of Symbolic Play in which one assigns roles or characters to inanimate objects or participants
- Role Play – a type of Symbolic Play in which one takes on a make-believe role, which can be fantastical or familiar
- Constructive Play (Walter Drew, 2000s) – activity in which one is free to manipulate aspects of one’s environment – by assembling, dissembling, drawing, moving, etc. – thus enabling hands-on inquiry that might support development of the imagination, of problem-posing and problem-solving abilities, of fine motor skills, of self-knowledge, and of social skills
- Free Play – unstructured, agent-directed activity subject to subtle constraints and/or located within a planned space, designed to channel attentions and actions in ways that contribute to broad clusters of competencies
- Guided Play – flexible activity within defined constraints (see, e.g., Learning Toys and Tools and Games and Learning) that is geared toward specific learning goals and that is typically supported by more expert knowers
- Ludic Learning (Ludic Pedagogy) – from the Latin ludere “to play,” the incorporation into one’s teaching of elements designed promote fun and play
- Make-Believe Play – pretending and role play that afford opportunities to test and practice wide arrays of culturally appropriate skills and identities while developing understandings of the inner dynamics of complex social situations
- Risky Play (Rusty Keeler, 2020s) – effectively, a challenge to critically question the boundaries on acceptable play – and, where imaginable, to move those boundaries
- Serious Play – a range of play-based, problem-focused, and inquiry-oriented formats for learning that are intended mainly for adults and that are united across themes of flexibility in activity, toying with boundaries, oriented to possibility, and freedom from judgment – all while having fun
CommentaryAs might be inferred from the categories and subcategories listed above – which actually represent only tip of a large iceberg – Play-Based Learning is subject to a wide range of interpretations. Because the foundational notion is so hotly contested, some commentators argue discourse is doomed to incoherence, and this criticism seems to be validated regularly as, for example, an advocate of Free Play simultaneously endorses school uniforms, teacher-centered lessons, and summative assessments. Of course, none of this is to say that the notion of incorporating Play into formal education is a bad idea. On the contrary, it’s likely a very good one … but the matter is in need of more careful theorizing and investigation.
Authors and/or Prominent InfluencesDiffuse
Status as a Theory of LearningInsofar as it is properly included among Developmental Discourses, Play-Based Learning contributes to understandings of how different modes of Play evolve and how manners of engagement within Play might contribute to learning across physical, cognitive, affective, and social competencies.
Status as a Theory of TeachingWhile Play-Based Learning is undertheorized and under-researched, it still offers some important insights for educators seeking to understand the complementarities of structured and unstructured experiences.
Status as a Scientific TheoryIn formal academic terms, Play-Based Learning is a relatively new area. There is an abundance of evidence that points to the value of Play-Based Learning in relation to matters of motivation and well-being, and rather less that affords insight in the contributions of Play into robust understandings of complex ideas. Consequently, in terms of scientific status, it appears to be a promising but under-developed domain.
- Associative Play
- Constructive Play
- Cooperative Play
- Dramatic Play
- Exploratory Play
- Free Play
- Functional Play
- Fundamental Movement Phase
- Guided Play
- Independent Play (Solitary Play)
- Ludic Learning (Ludic Pedagogy)
- Make-Believe Play
- Motor Skills
- Nature Play
- Onlooker Play
- Open-Ended Play
- Parallel Play
- Parten’s Six Stages of Play
- Phases of Motor Development
- Reflexive Movement Phase
- Pretend Play
- Risky Play
- Role Play
- Rudimentary Movement Phrase
- Specialized Movement Phase
- Symbolic Play
- Unoccupied Play
Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2022). “Play-Based Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.
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