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Definition

Playful learning is the concept of children learning through their own exploration and activities. This could happen at different levels of adult involvement, such as free play or guided play, but it is always child directed. Adult involvement would either be through just putting materials and objects in the child's environment that they can discover on their own, or they may gently guide the child through comments or reinforcements in a certain direction of discovery. There is some evidence that shows how both free and guided play develop early cognitive skills in executive function, social-emotional skills, maths, science, literacy and language.

Alfieri, L. et al. (2011) Does discovery-based instruction enhance learning? (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Discovery learning approaches to education have recently come under scrutiny (Tobias & Duffy, 2009), with many studies indicating limitations to discovery learning practices. Therefore, 2 meta-analyses were conducted using a sample of 164 studies: The 1st examined the effects of unassisted discovery learning versus explicit instruction, and the 2nd examined the effects of enhanced and/or assisted discovery versus other types of instruction (e.g., explicit, unassisted discovery). Random effects analyses of 580 comparisons revealed that outcomes were favorable for explicit instruction when compared with unassisted discovery under most conditions (d = –0.38, 95% CI [−.44, −.31]). In contrast, analyses of 360 comparisons revealed that outcomes were favorable for enhanced discovery when compared with other forms of instruction (d = 0.30, 95% CI [.23, .36]). The findings suggest that unassisted discovery does not benefit learners, whereas feedback, worked examples, scaffolding, and elicited explanations do. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

Date:
January 2011
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
103
Page/s:
1-18
Synonyms:
  • Guided-play
  • Meta-analysis
  • Pedagogy
  • Playful learning
  • Learning
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Baker, F. (2014) Tensions in Policy and Practice: Influences on Play in Abu Dhabi's New School Model KG Framework (Journal Article)

Abstract:

This article reports on three salient socio-cultural and systemic factors that are influential in play in Abu Dhabi Education Council's (ADEC's) kindergarten (KG) framework from the teacher perspective. Anecdotal evidence suggests that during ADEC's progressive educational reform, emphasis has reverted to academic performance outcomes rather than whole child learning through play. Tensions may then occur surrounding the nature and extent of play practices for early learning. Following semi-structured interviews with 60 KG teachers, three salient factors emerged. These are illustrated in this article and discussed in light of the international literature on play. Tensions in policy and practice highlighted in this article are: a focus on academic performance outcomes; children's readiness to engage in play and parent perspectives on play. The article then discusses what these tensions may mean for the future of play in ADEC KGs situated within a period of educational reform.

Author/s:
Date:
January 2014
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
184
Page/s:
1830-1842
Synonyms:
  • Academic achievement
  • Academic outcomes
  • Playful learning
  • Pre-academic skills
  • Qualitative methodology
Relevant age group/s:

Barker, J. et al. (2014) Less-structured time in children's daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Executive functions in childhood predict important life outcomes. Thus, there is great interest in attempts to improve executive functions early in life. Many interventions are led by trained adults, including structured training activities in the lab, and less-structured activities implemented in schools. Such programs have yielded gains in children’s externally-driven executive functioning, where they are instructed on what goal-directed actions to carry out and when. However, it is less clear how children’s experiences relate to their development of self-directed executive functioning, where they must determine on their own what goal-directed actions to carry out and when. We hypothesized that time spent in less-structured activities would give children opportunities to practice self-directed executive functioning, and lead to benefits. To investigate this possibility, we collected information from parents about their 6-7 year-old children’s daily, annual, and typical schedules. We categorized children’s activities as “structured” or “less-structured” based on categorization schemes from prior studies on child leisure time use. We assessed children’s self-directed executive functioning using a well-established verbal fluency task, in which children generate members of a category and can decide on their own when to switch from one subcategory to another. The more time that children spent in less-structured activities, the better their self-directed executive functioning. The opposite was true of structured activities, which predicted poorer self-directed executive functioning. These relationships were robust (holding across increasingly strict classifications of structured and less-structured time) and specific (time use did not predict externally-driven executive functioning). We discuss implications, caveats, and ways in which potential interpretations can be distinguished in future work, to advance an understanding of this fundamental aspect of growing up.

Date:
January 2014
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
5
Page/s:
1-16
Synonyms:
  • Correlational
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Free play
  • Playful learning
  • Self-regulation
  • Executive function
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Baumer, S. et al. (2005) Promoting narrative competence through adult–child joint pretense: Lessons from the Scandinavian educational practice of playworld (Journal Article)

Abstract:

This paper examines the effects of the playworld educational practice on the development of narrative competence in 5- to 7-year-old children. The playworld educational practice is derived from play pedagogy and the theory of narrative learning, both developed and implemented in Scandinavia. The playworld practice consists of joint adult–child pretense based in a work of children's literature, discussion, free play, and visual art production. When compared to children under a control intervention (conventional school practices without pretend play), children who participated in the playworld practice show significant improvements in narrative length, coherence, and comprehension, although not in linguistic complexity. These findings provide further evidence concerning the role of pretense in the narrative development of young children.

Date:
January 2005
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
20
Page/s:
576-590
Synonyms:
  • Academic outcomes
  • Literacy
  • Pedagogy
  • Playful learning
  • Pretend play
  • Semiotic play
  • Teacher/caregiver play
Relevant age group/s:

BBC, . et al. (2017) PEDAL | BBC Breakfast report on playful writing (Video Recording)

Abstract:

Acting Director of PEDAL Centre, David Whitebread, is interviewed in BBC Breakfast report on playful writing.

Author/s:
Date:
January 2017
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
Page/s:
Synonyms:
  • Academic achievement
  • Academic outcomes
  • Creativity
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Engagement
  • Guided-play
  • Learning
  • Playful learning
  • Pretend play
  • Social-emotional
  • Construction play
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Bonawitz, E. et al. (2011) The double-edged sword of pedagogy: Instruction limits spontaneous exploration and discovery (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Motivated by computational analyses, we look at how teaching affects exploration and discovery. In Experiment 1, we investigated children’s exploratory play after an adult pedagogically demonstrated a function of a toy, after an interrupted pedagogical demonstration, after a naïve adult demonstrated the function, and at baseline. Preschoolers in the pedagogical condition focused almost exclusively on the target function; by contrast, children in the other conditions explored broadly. In Experiment 2, we show that children restrict their exploration both after direct instruction to themselves and after overhearing direct instruction given to another child; they do not show this constraint after observing direct instruction given to an adult or after observing a non-pedagogical intentional action. We discuss these findings as the result of rational inductive biases. In pedagogical contexts, a teacher’s failure to provide evidence for additional functions provides evidence for their absence; such contexts generalize from child to child (because children are likely to have comparable states of knowledge) but not from adult to child. Thus, pedagogy promotes efficient learning but at a cost: children are less likely to perform potentially irrelevant actions but also less likely to discover novel information.

Date:
January 2011
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
120
Page/s:
322-330
Synonyms:
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Experimental
  • Free play
  • Guided-play
  • Learning
  • Pedagogy
  • Playful learning
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Brooker, L. et al. (2014) SAGE Handbook of Play and Learning in Early Childhood (Book)

Abstract:

'This Handbook offers diverse perspectives from scholars across the globe who help us see play in new ways. At the same time the basic nature of play gives a context for us to learn new theoretical frameworks and methods. A real gem!'
- Beth Graue, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Wisconsin Center for Education Research, USA

Play and learning scholarship has developed considerably over the last decade, as has the recognition of its importance to children’s learning and development.

Containing chapters from highly respected researchers, whose work has been critical to building knowledge and expertise in the field, this Handbook focuses on examining historical, current and future research issues in play and learning scholarship.

Organized into three sections which consider:

theoretical and philosophical perspectives on play and learning
play in pedagogy, curriculum and assessment
play contexts.

The Handbook's breadth, clarity and rigor will make it essential reading for researchers and postgraduate students, as well as professionals with interest in this dynamic and changing field.

Liz Brooker is Reader in Early Childhood in the Faculty of Children and Learning at the Institute of Education, University of London.

Mindy Blaise is an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education in the Department of Early Childhood Education at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

Susan Edwards is Associate Professor in Curriculum and Pedagogy at Australian Catholic University.

Date:
January 2014
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
Page/s:
Synonyms:
  • Cultural context
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Digital play
  • Learning
  • Outdoor play
  • Physical play
  • Play assessment
  • Playful learning
  • Playfulness
  • Playground
  • Pretend play

Canning, N. (2013) "Where's the Bear? Over There!"--Creative Thinking and Imagination in Den Making (Journal Article)

Abstract:

This small scale research project examines opportunities for creative thinking and imagination through den making in a rural private day nursery with its own woodland area on the borders of England and Wales in the UK. The research is underpinned by sociocultural theory and is an ethnographic study of non-participant observations of children aged between three and four years old and early years practitioners involved in supporting their play. The focus is on children's creative play in peer social groups and examines the way in which children explore their environment and utilise their play space and resources to sustain imagination and creativity. The research considers how the environment and den-making context provides opportunities for possibility thinking [Craft, A. (2001). "Little c creativity." In A. Craft, B. Jeffrey, & M. Liebling (Eds.), "Creativity in education" (pp. 45-61). London: Continuum], where children are encouraged to explore "what if?" questions. The research explores the way in which an outdoor environment can support flexible opportunities and resources where children are able to engage in imaginative and creative play, develop their communication skills and build relationships with other children and adults. The research considers children's fascination with the story "bears in the wood" and how early years practitioners facilitated their creative thinking and imagination.

Author/s:
Date:
January 2013
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
183
Page/s:
1042-1053
Synonyms:
  • Creativity
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Free play
  • Outdoor play
  • Peers play
  • Playful learning
  • Pretend play
  • Qualitative methodology
  • Construction play
Relevant age group/s:

Fisher, K. et al. (2010) Playing around in School: Implications for Learning and Educational Policy (Book Section)

Abstract:

A fundamental question has spawned fervent debates in classrooms and on Capitol Hill: How do we best educate children to be successful in a global, ever-changing world? Here we present the evidence that playful learning pedagogies not only promote important academic learning but also build the skills required for success in the 21st century. A brief review of current educational trends and their underlying philosophies is followed by the introduction to of the concept of “playful learning,” a teaching approach that uses free-play and guided-play activities to promote academic, socio-emotional, and cognitive development. The chapter then reviews correlational, observational, and experimental literature on playing around in school and offers suggestions and future directions for research in the emerging playful learning domain.

Date:
January 2010
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
Page/s:
Synonyms:
  • Academic outcomes
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Free play
  • Guided-play
  • Literature review
  • Playful learning
Relevant age group/s:
Tags:

Fisher, K. et al. (2013) Taking Shape: Supporting Preschoolers' Acquisition of Geometric Knowledge Through Guided Play (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Shape knowledge, a key aspect of school readiness, is part of early mathematical learning. Variations in how children are exposed to shapes may affect the pace of their learning and the nature of their shape knowledge. Building on evidence suggesting that child-centered, playful learning programs facilitate learning more than other methods, 4- to 5-year-old children (N = 70) were taught the properties of four geometric shapes using guided play, free play, or didactic instruction. Results revealed that children taught shapes in the guided play condition showed improved shape knowledge compared to the other groups, an effect that was still evident after 1 week. Findings suggest that scaffolding techniques that heighten engagement, direct exploration, and facilitate “sense-making,” such as guided play, undergird shape learning.

Date:
January 2013
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
Page/s:
n/a–n/a
Synonyms:
  • Academic outcomes
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Experimental
  • Free play
  • Learning
  • Playful learning
  • Pre-academic skills
  • Guided-play
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline: