4 February 2022

Play-based learning can help parents and young kids make the most of time at home

| Damien Larkins
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Play based learning cooking in the kitchen

Arts, crafts and cooking with young children help them play and learn at home. Photo: Damien Larkins.

Still got your young kids at home? Play-based learning is a great way to connect with them and is vital for their early growth, and one Canberra expert has the tips to help.

Many Canberra parents are finding themselves at home more with their young children lately.

On top of juggling our work and home commitments, we’re finding ourselves having to play a bigger role in their early development.

But it’s not always easy to find activities that are good for them and not too overwhelming for us.

Conder Early Learning early childhood teacher Lakshani Welagedara says play-based learning is the way to go.

She says it’s a great way to engage with toddlers, preschoolers and babies.

“Early learning is very important for children’s overall development … language development, cognitive development, physical development, and social and emotional development,” she says.

“So it is always good to be with the children and to improve their learning skills.”

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She suggests a range of indoor and outdoor activities to engage your children.

While cooking may not seem complicated, it helps your child learn about science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics or (STEAM) skills. Baking a cake with your child can take in all the elements of STEAM, Lakshani explains.

Mixing ingredients and observing the outcome involves science, the utensils and appliances cover technology and engineering, decorating the cake is art, and measuring ingredients uses maths.

“So all these components are embedded in that play-based learning experience,” she says.

“Even the simplest recipes help children’s social and emotional development because it provides children opportunities for exploration, is critical thinking practice, and develops confidence, independence and a child’s self-esteem.

“And cooking is a daily activity, so the learning happens naturally.”

Play based learning gardening

The garden is a great place for young kids to learn and play at home. Photo: Damien Larkins.

Involving your child in making their own playdough at home not only gives them their own new toy they helped make themselves, but helps grow essential skills.

“[It’s] a sensory experience, it helps to develop children’s hand-eye coordination, sensory skills, imagination, creativity and problem solving,” Lakshani says.

Parents can guide their children to improve their critical thinking skills by asking questions along the way.

“For example, if the consistency is too runny… parents can ask, ‘what can we do to thicken the mixture?'” she says.

“Let’s add ingredients and then see what happens.”

Making arts and crafts and building with items from around the house can help develop children’s learning skills too.

“Natural materials like stones, sticks, leaves, things like that,” Lakshani says.

“If you don’t have access to that stuff, you can use recyclable materials like egg cartons, toilet paper tubes, boxes, papers. These building experiences develop childrens’ creativity, imagination, perseverance and also problem-solving skills.”

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Outdoors is a whole other world of learning and skills development.

Lakshani says involving your child in gardening is a great learning experience.

From growing carrots and mung beans on the kitchen window sill, to flowers and crops in the backyard – they’re learning more than you may realise.

“Gardening also helps with sensory exploration, to assume responsibility, build patience, and to promote healthy eating,” Lakshani says.

“Gardening also involves carrying water and digging holes to plant seeds, and those activities help for children’s motor development.”

Child plays in mud

Learning can be messy business. Photo: Nicole Sadlier.

While we may not always have time for these structured activities, it is also beneficial to explore the environment and do our own thing.

Unstructured play is a great way to spark imagination and curiosity.

Playing with our kids may not seem much like we’re helping them learn, but she says it’s important parents know the benefits of play in preparing their children for school.

“Preparation for school should focus on a child’s social and emotional development, self-regulation and learning dispositions such as curiosity, perseverance, confidence, imagination and responsibility,” she says.

“So parents can try these simple play-based learning experiences at home to develop children’s social and emotional skills along with learning dispositions.”

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