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Play-based Learning vs. Intentional Teaching in Kindergarten

Play-based Learning vs. Intentional Teaching in Kindergarten | ITTT | TEFL Blog

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Gary H. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Classroom Environment

Entering into an early years unit at any school is like entering another time zone. The classroom has an atmosphere unlike other classes and can best be described as an assault on the senses. The room is divided into different areas including role-play, messy play, building and construction, reading, writing and craft corners, all for the children to discover and explore. Colorful pictures and drawings of various topics, number, and letter sequences cover the walls, it is loud with sounds of continuous chatter, laughter, and shrieks of excitement as the young children learn through activities and games set out by their teachers and teacher assistants.

Play-based learning is, therefore, a way of learning through actively engaging with objects and others in the class. The debate between traditional ‘direct’ teaching methods, involving teachers being purposeful and deliberate in their teaching methods, and the ‘learning through play’ method is a controversial topic, but which one is better?

nursery children playing with musical instruments

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Choice of Activities

The activities found in early years settings are not set out purely to entertain the children so that the teacher can busy themselves with other tasks. Precursor skills such as developing muscles, fine motor skills, core strength and coordination obtained through these activities ultimately help the children to be able to hold a pen correctly, balance and sit with good posture and develop the skills needed for later stages in their development. The activities teach the children to become creative thinkers and problem solvers through exploration and discovery.

Age-related Challenges

The young children absorb new information, including a new language, from everyone around them. Play supports positive attitudes to learning, motivating young learners and encourages curiosity, imagination, and persistence. Unlike adults, children do not feel the need to speak the same language as their peers to engage in conversation, fun, and games with one another, the ‘language barrier’ does not exist to children in the early years. Those that are learning English as an additional language are immersed in activities and can learn not only from the teacher but from their classmates too, through social interactions during play. The use of basic sign language is an effective method to help children understand in the early years, especially those who are learning English as an additional language.

kindergarten kids playing on the green grass

Children in the early years have not yet developed the concentration skills to be able to sit and listen for long periods and some children may not yet be ready for more formal academic instruction. Short carpet sessions enable the teacher to address the students directly and get them interested in the topic of the lesson. It is then important to make sure activities are set up that enable the children to explore and practice these skills and that the teacher is on hand to guide and encourage young learners when help is required.

Also Read: Do TEFL teachers need a second language

Teaching Approaches

Direct teaching methods are sometimes viewed as damaging, forcing adult goals onto what a child is learning, taking up a valuable time where the children could be learning independently. Teacher-led learning methods do have their place in education, however, it would be wrong to view early years teaching as monolithic, to have methods set in stone and to either adopt one method or the other. Supporting the development of socially competent learners who can face challenges and create solutions is fundamental in early years teaching. The goal of education is to develop independent, creative, critical learners and to form a strong basis for future success. This cannot be achieved through the sole use of learning through play methods or direct teaching methods but by a combination of the two methods.

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