• The Mum Tribe

Learning through play

Updated: Aug 16

Written with help from my mama, who is a teacher and enthusiast in play-based learning.


Play is an essential part of childhood. We learn to do it as early as a couple of months old, and it's one of the key ways babies learn and explore the world around them.


Learning through play, also known as play-based learning can promote healthy development and help children learn life skills. All while having a blast!


While playing, children learn vital language skills, how to share and take turns, and how to use their imaginations to amuse themselves. This can be done with or without toys - children usually adapt to what they have around them and make their own fun!


Encouraging learning through play at home


It goes without saying that to encourage learning through play, children need the opportunity to play! That means unstructured playtime, without you telling them 'how' to play. We're talking outside in the mud, or with a pretend kitchen cooking up a storm. Or if they're younger, exploring some new tastes, textures, temperatures and more!


Pretend play


You don't need to buy much, but there are some amazing pretend play toys out there. Pretend play usually centres around pretending to do things. Think washing the dishes or vacuuming the house. Getting kids familiar with doing these things makes it easier when it comes time for them to actually start doing chores around the house - win win!


Pretend play with more than one child is even more magical. Try setting up a 'shop' with some staples from your pantry. Your child will learn about give and take (nothing comes for free!), as well as some basic maths (I have $5, but these two things cost $6 so I'll need to put one back).


Making things


Think tactile, practical things! Help your child make a birdhouse, or a card for grandma's birthday. It might not feel like play to you, but experimenting with paints, glitter, and even wood and nails teaches your child about different textures, things to be careful of and how to create something with their very own hands.


For younger babies, you can experiment with edible paints or mess-free painting activities. Create a painting for grandparents or other family members - they will love it! You don't just have to paint paper, either! We LOVE this idea from Zaziplays of painting a clock!


Playing outside


My brother and I grew up playing outside, and I'm really hoping my daughter can do the same. Being outdoors is an incredible learning experience for kids. You can make some mud for them to play with, go on a scavenger hunt or hunt for bugs and draw pictures of what you found.


As they get older, encourage them to play on their own outside. They'll invent games and use their imaginations in ways they never would if you 'show' them how to play.


Sensory play


Sensory play simply means play that engages your child's senses. It could be hearing, seeing, touching, tasting or smelling, or a combination of them all! There are loads of amazing ideas for sensory play activities on Pinterest, so get inspired! You'll love watching your baby experience new textures, smells, tastes and colours.


An easy mess-free option is to create sensory bags. All you need is a ziplock bag, some tape and some fun stuff to put inside the bag. Sensory bags are particularly good when your baby is still in the 'stick everything in the mouth' phase. Here are some awesome ideas for sensory bags you can create with everyday items at home.


We'd love to hear your ideas, too! What are some fun play activities your children love?

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Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand