Jean Piaget once said, “when you teach a child something, you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself.

The Psychology Behind Play-Based Learning Activities the theory of play

Children have a playful and curious nature. While some may believe this is just making them entertain and have fun, psychologist Jean Piaget developed a theory in 1936 that proves otherwise.

Back then, kids were not considered for what they were: kids. Instead, adults saw them as a smaller version of themselves, so they expected them to behave, react and respond just like they would.

Today we will educate you on the psychology behind play-based learning and its importance from early childhood. Let’s get hands-on learning!

What is the Theory of Play?

Piaget was amazed by how toddlers gained knowledge, their reasoning about different things, and how that affected them as adults, so he decided to study it firsthand with his children.

He first realized that they acquired this knowledge through what we know as playing. However, rather than just games, he saw them as their natural impulses, reacting to the curiosity generated by certain smells, textures, sounds, or flavors.

Then he realized that through this real-life “adventure,” they answered themselves rather than having someone break it down and explain it to them. 

Likewise, he established in this theory that letting children learn independently through playing develops their curiosity and cognitive, associative abilities and boosts their fine motor skills.

Stages of learning in Piaget’s theory

The psychologist emphasized the following stages because the games will differ as time passes and our child reaches a certain intellectual maturity. 

  1. Sensorimotor stage: this period includes their first months to 2 years. Children find themselves in a new world where they begin to learn through sensory play, using their five senses.
  2. Preoperational stage: this stage ranges from 2 to 7 seven years old. Here the children begin to form their points of view and associate specific characteristics with different objects thanks to what they have learned in the sensory stage.
  3. Concrete operational stage: children are 7 to 11 years old. They now prefer to play more interactively with other children, so their social and problem-solving skills have improved. 
  4. Formal operational stage: children 12+ years old can form concrete and independent ideas and opinions of their own with the knowledge and experience they have gained up to this stage.

Remember that learning is not linear. The learning processes can and will vary according to the child because we are all different. These ages just represent a starting point to take as a reference.

Play-based learning is not gamified work.

One thing to have in mind if we want to let our kids learn through play is that these games can’t be decided or orchestrated by us.

The idea behind this concept is that while it is taking place, children direct their learning process through play according to what their curiosity dictates.

They found different colored pencils and are curious to understand what their eyes see? Let them be. Please do not play them songs about colors or get involved in explaining concepts, their names, etc.

If you do so, the child is not learning by himself; you are teaching him. 

And although it is not a bad idea and a more dynamic and fun way of teaching children, it is no longer play-based learning because you have intervened and are directing their way of playing.

Play-based learning activities

If you got to this point expecting us to give you a list of specific activities or games for them to play, you’d be a little disappointed.

The Psychology Behind Play-Based Learning Activities and how it helps toddlers

These are born of their impulses and childish nature. Like trial and error, they will learn through experiences. It is not something systematic with a series of rules to be played, nor should it be directed by something other than their imagination.

We cannot direct what children play and call it play-based learning because that is not a game. Look at it like you’re giving them a fun assignment, which they’ll enjoy, but it wasn’t their idea.

That doesn’t mean you have to leave them alone, as they will likely want you involved. Just let them run the game or activity. 

Otherwise, if they wish to be on their own, bring them more materials to continue, colored sheets, markers, paints, and let them do their thing. Plus, this will make them feel supported.

How play-based learning helps our children

A child needs to have independence and learn through their senses.

Their curiosity towards the world and others is something totally normal and healthy; it means that they want to learn about their surroundings. 

However, let’s point out more briefly how it can help them:

Piaget said it himself “children require long uninterrupted play and exploration.”

These experiences will help them later in developing their different cognitive stages to become functional adults and be prepared to face different situations and interact with other people.

On our blog, you will find articles with more information, parenting tips, and different games and activities to enjoy with your babies in a safe environment where they can learn and feel heard and loved.  

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