Play in all its glory.

Play is not only our creative drive; it’s a fundamental mode of learning.

                                                               David Elkind

I have just had an email conversation with an old colleague, and we were talking about different interpretations of play based. Its something that I have been muttering about for a while now, and I fear that ‘play based’ may have become the new buzzword just as ‘Reggio inspired’ is.

When you say, you are play based what are you saying? Children play some of the time or all of the time, is play seen as a break from learning or is it how children learn? Is it playful table tops activities that have easily assessed outcomes or an open classroom with no agenda other than fun and wonder? 

It seems to me play based is something that people use in between learning. Some are reluctant to question their role, to leave behind themselves as the one who imparts knowledge to become a co-learner of knowledge. Standards, outcomes and preplanned, whole class activities seem to continue to be the drivers of the learning, this is considered play based as long as the learning is playful. If this is the case are we really putting children first? We need to listen to them, they are after all the masters of play, and we should get out of their way let them lead.

Children come into the world with instinctive drives to educate themselves 
– Peter Gray

So I got out of the way, and this is what I learnt and how it has informed my beliefs and pedagogy when it comes to Play and teaching.

Play based is an environment that inspires thought, questions and wonders not just in the children but for everyone who enters. Children and adults are at play all day, every day. There is no break for math, language or even PE because it is happening all the time in everything that they are doing.

Children can move freely throughout the space and take equipment with them, while there are the usual block, family, and puzzle etc. areas, this is fluid and children are supported when they need a baby for the rocket that they built, they are never told ‘that stays there’. There is space for quietness, to sit and work at an idea or thought, and there are areas for being loud and messy. All children in all their greatness can find their home to learn.

Children’s questions are answered, not put on a sticky note and left on a wall. Teachers jump at these questions because they know they are about to go on yet another magical ride into the joy of learning. When it comes time to assess the learning, it is done through the lens of the children, each child is assessed according to their own growth, not a collective ‘this is where a 4-year-old should be’. No child is ever forced to fit an outcome, standard or teacher planned idea of what should happen. Instead, the outcomes, standards and planning are made to fit the learning that is already happening, teachers see themselves as interpreters of play and learning not the drivers of it.

‘The predictability of a scope and sequence means inquiries became less driven by the learners’ questions, needs and interests and current resources or authentic connections are often overlooked’.
– Kath Murdoch

Children are surrounded by passionate teachers who genuinely believe that there is learning in digging a hole in the sand for three days straight. They see the value in repetition and silliness, they see themselves as co-learners and know that however great their provocations are, they may never be used in the way they thought, and that is ok.


Children are never asked to all engage in the same activity, however well planned or playful it might be. Skills and concepts are taught through each child’s own passions and interests, units fit the children and can be interpreted in multiple ways. The children are the drivers of their learning, they set the content, the timeline and the focus for their inquiries. The teachers join in this process, offering ideas, challenging thinking and providing support. The adults understand that what is attractive to one is not to another, this choice and voice is to be respected and valued.

Most importantly, whenever an adult enters this space and is challenged by it’s organised chaos, they don’t demand change, they don’t create order to fit what they know, they stand back and observe, learn and listen. They know that this space is where learning is at it’s most powerful and it is their job to gain an understanding of what play is and how they fit within it.

“Curiosity is the engine of achievement.”
– Ken Robinson


Everyone is different and comes from different paths and backgrounds, and that is ok. I do not think there is one right way, rather, this is what I have learnt and where I see myself in Early Childhood Education and the role of play.

 I understand that every school has constraints on them but should we not all aspire to challenge ourselves, to question what we know and change when needed. Play in all its glory never changes, rather those who work within it do, they ask questions, wonder, learn and change.

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