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Learning and play are a natural fit for toddlers

Child development

Author: Emily McCormack, experienced educator working at Goodstart Salisbury North

A child’s curiosity really ramps up in their toddler years, and there’s no better way to capitalise on their growing interests than through play-based learning.

Play-based learning is the way we approach early education at Goodstart Salisbury North, and indeed in all Goodstart centres.

It’s an approach that is led by the child and supported by teachers and educators by recognising ‘teachable moments’ during play, or by carefully planning play experiences that open up opportunities for learning.

When children engage in play, they are more motivated to learn and develop positive feelings towards learning. By drawing on their natural desires, play-based learning is perfect for toddlers.

And above all else, it’s fun!

What do toddlers learn through play-based learning?
Toddlers use play based learning to foster the development of a range of skills including:
  • Emotional competence
  • Empathy
  • Awareness
  • Problem solving
  • Language development
  • Physical development, balance and spatial awareness
These are important foundational skills for toddlers which they’ll build on as they enter kindergarten or preschool and get ready for primary school.

Play-based learning for toddlers in action
Today one of the children with emerging language skills in our centre’s toddler room was showing an interest in cubby houses. Educators supported his interest by introducing the materials to construct a larger cubby so that other children were able to be involved in the experience.

This simple and common play experience packs in a lot of learning, which when we take a step back and observe really shows us the rich value of play-based learning.

Not only was the child having fun and therefore more likely to engage in a similar experience again, there was also several skills and competencies being developed like language skills and social skills while negotiating with the other children, and problem solving skills both when building the cubby house and when deciding how to take turns to play in it.

Play-based learning tips for home
There are so many ways parents can support play-based learning at home with their toddler:
  • Having dress-up clothes available. Dramatic play is a fantastic form of play-based learning.
  • Having ‘loose parts’ available (appropriate for their age) such as stones, wood or cardboard boxes. These items encourage imagination and creativity without the limitations of structured items like plastic toys.
  • Getting down to your child’s level when you play with them
  • Ask open ended questions such as “can you tell me what it does?” when your child has made something creative.
  • Creating a flexible routine which allows time for play.
  • Use open-ended art materials like playdoh, paint and felts.
  • Use common household items like pots and pans, clothing, sheets or furniture.
  • Turn off screens and devices to reduce background noise and distractions
You really are only limited by your own imagination when it comes to play-based learning activities with your toddler. And if you’re both having fun and are engaged in what you’re doing, you’re probably doing it right!

Learn more about our approach to early learning here, and find a centre near you.
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