What is play-based learning?

It does not mean that children just do what they like all day. A programme focusing on play-based learning will look different throughout the day. At times children may play alone or with their friends. At other times children will come together as a group, listen when others are talking, follow the rules of the group and begin to take responsibility for their own actions and their environment.


What is the adult’s role in play-based learning programmes?

To encourage play-based learning, the adult’s role in the programme is to guide and extend the play activities. Adults continually evaluate children’s play to discover what it is children are learning and to then help shape and extend this learning. Materials are added to play by children or adults. Adults will ask questions to extend the play. They will interact and participate with children and their play.

(from The University of Melbourne: "Play Based Learning")


Why is play and play-based learning important?

Children learn best when they’re having fun, and they are more likely to be having fun when they are playing. Children’s learning is optimal when they’re free to learn at their own pace and in their own way. It has previously been thought that educating children from an early age is ideal and that play has little value. Research indicates that a work-oriented, rigid approach to learning is not likely to help children develop a love of learning or provide the skills and attitude they need to be life-long learners. Play is the way in which children learn best.


More detail:

What are the benefits of play?

  • Play provides opportunities to improve fine motor and gross motor skills and maintain physical health.
  • Play helps to develop imagination and creativity
  • Play provides an environment in which to practise social skills
  • Long periods of uninterrupted play build children’s concentration and the inner motivation to take responsibility for their own learning.
  • A positive sense of self is important in facilitating ongoing learning.


Further discussion and examples:

Anji Play, China: Leading a Revolution of Truly Child-Led Learning and Discovery

The Anji Play curriculum uses 'true play' as the mechanism for play-based learning. The basic premise of this model is that any environment can become a learning environment. The True Play Statement was written in 2019 in Anji County, China at the 1st International True Play Conference. True Play, as defined below, is valued as the primary experience of learning in Anji Play environments. Routines, schedules, reflection, and other activities in Anji Play programmes are organised to "provide the greatest potential for trust, freedom and depth in these True Play experiences".

True Play Statement

True play is deep and uninterrupted

  engagement in the activity of one’s own choice.

True Play is most frequently characterised

  by observable experiences of risk, joy and deep engagement. This is the

  deepest manifestation of learning, growth and development.

True Play flourishes in places of love

  where the materials, environments and decision-making attend to the needs and

  differences of the individual and the group.

When given space to reflect, those who

  experience True Play and those who take part in deep and engaged observation

  of True Play will create ecologies that prioritise the understanding of

  learning and development in their respective communities.

Educators and policy-makers committed to

  True Play protect the child’s right to experiences of True Play, and make

  True Play a priority in their decision-making about education.

Play based learning addresses teenage needs as well.

(From TIME: "Playtime Isn't Just for Preschoolers - Teenagers need it, too")

Play-based learning not only fosters creative thinking, problem solving, independence, and perseverance, but also addresses teenagers’ developmental needs for greater independence and ownership in their learning, opportunities for physical activity and creative expression, and the ability to demonstrate competence. When classroom activities allow students to make choices relevant to their interests, direct their own learning, engage their imaginations, experiment with adult roles, and play physically, research shows that students become more motivated and interested, and they enjoy more positive school experiences.


Other web resources:

Zaidee Stavely: "How to Bring Playfulness to High-School Students"

Christopher Harris: "Play-Based Learning for Teens, via Board Games"



Play-based learning has application to all stages of learning. It is significantly important in the early years, as the development of creativity helps lay a foundation for creative thinking, problem solving and divergent thinking skills as an adult learner.


Play-based learning is one of the 25 learning methodologies in the Learnlife learning paradigm  toolkit. Learn more about the different ways to engage learners through the different learning methodologies.