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Does learning through play develop a key aspect of inquiry-based learning among young children?

Ms. G Vani Reddy, Principal of RBK International School, Bhayandar (IGCSE Board)

Vani Reddy

“Children learn as they play. More importantly, children in play learn how to learn”- O. Fred Donaldson.

Inquiry based learning strategy with its five key aspects observation, conceptualisation, investigation, conclusion and sharing becomes a high impact teaching strategy if it is implemented with play based approach. Play-based inquiry learning is important for students’ development as it allows them to enquire about the world around them and enables them to use their imagination to explore, experiment, discover, create, and collaborate with others as the nature of play is complicated and multifaceted.

This strategy is a student-centred pedagogical approach that constructivist educators have discussed and advocated for. In this approach, teachers assume the role of facilitators who prompt students with questions and hints to arouse students’ curiosity in exploring and deepening their understanding of certain topics. Students are encouraged to generate questions and find answers to the questions through their own search processes. Consequently, students learn to actively construct their knowledge base and solve problems through a systematic procedure of information collection and analysis.

When we provide young learners with quality opportunities for success in their earliest learning experiences that support play, a natural form of inquiry where children engage in the process of constructing meaning of their world, children will naturally develop inquiry skills for future learning upon which all teachers can build.

Play-based inquiry learning stimulates and integrates a wide range of intellectual, physical, social, emotional, and creative capabilities to foster high-level learning (DET, 2018). Research suggests that learning dispositions towards science should be fostered at a young age when children are intrinsically curious about the world around them. Many researchers and teachers observe student outcomes such as creativity, self-regulation, social skills, language and literacy, theory of mind and social understandings during play (Lillard et al, 2013; Stagnitti, Paatsch, Nolan & Campbell, 2020). 

Play-based learning environments support student’s interests, their individual abilities and strengths.  This strategy is more likely to help students feel a sense of belonging and of being valued, also supporting them to become self-motivated and intrinsically engaged in their learning. 

Asking questions, building narratives, making their own interpretations, forming explanations based on their discoveries, forming arguments, exploring Math and Science with these  engagement experiences students develop resilience and their self-regulations

Play-based inquiry learning differentiates the process and product of learning because students choose how they work on a specific concept by selecting experiences available to them in the classroom or outdoor environment; this makes it possible to work at their own levels of proficiency.

It is important to determine the role of a teacher in supporting students to develop their play and inquiry learning abilities. Following these strategies teachers can respond inclusively, further differentiation can occur during play when teachers intentionally interact with students to make adjustments to their learning process. It is a privilege for students with diverse learning capacities.

Play based approach can be followed for structured, guided, controlled, open ended and problem solving inquiry based learning. The amount of guidance and leading a teacher provides may vary. There is a general misconception that a teacher has a minimal role and play based approach is led wholly by the child. 

This strategy is a good balance of child led and teacher led procedure. In a right play context teachers have a crucial role. Teachers need to know when to interfere during play to make learning purposeful. Teachers can ask more questions prompting them a problem for them to solve and learn.

It is also important to assess the student’s level of play abilities from simple skills, such as manipulating objects and exploring their surroundings, to the more complex abilities to impose meaning on what they are doing and substituting an object for something else. Following this strategy teacher takes notes while examining children play gaining insight into their conceptual awareness about the topic, their emotional and social capabilities, communication, language and their cognitive abilities and captures processes and outcomes

In play-based and inquiry learning, teachers use student’s existing strengths, capabilities and understandings as the starting point for extending their learning. Students are supported to persevere, problem solve, challenge themselves, take risks, collaborate and support each other’s learning. 

Also Read: The future of early childhood education in the digital era

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