Learning and Play Are a Natural Fit for Toddlers

Toddlers use play based learning to foster the development of a range of skills.

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.

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.

What do toddlers learn through play-based learning?

Toddlers use play based learning to foster the development of a range of skills including:

  • Social and emotional competence
  • EmpathyAwareness about themselves and the world around them
  • Problem solving
  • Language development
  • Physical development, balance and spatial awareness
  • Independence

These are important foundation skills for toddlers which they’ll build on as they enter preschool and get ready for primary school.
An example; one of the children with emerging language skills in a 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:

  • 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.
  • Follow your child’s lead, children like to make choices about what they are interested in. It’s a great way to support your child’s sense of independence.
  • 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. And if you’re both having fun and are engaged in what you’re doing, you’re probably doing it right!
Play-based learning is the way we approach early education at all Goodstart centres.

Learn more about Goodstart’s approach to early learning, and find a centre near you.


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Playgroup NSW leads play-based programs and services for NSW families with children birth to school age, offering development, shared experiences, and family support, that results in active citizens and inclusive communities.