Play based learning needs to extend into school: ACER Conference
The Sector > Quality > Professional development > Play-based learning shouldn’t end in early childhood: ACER conference advocacy

Play-based learning shouldn’t end in early childhood: ACER conference advocacy

by Freya Lucas

September 11, 2023

Some of the biggest modern challenges in education could be overcome through play-based learning, speakers at the recent Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) Conference have shared. 


Rachel Parker, ACER Senior Research Fellow, is leading a longitudinal study with the LEGO Foundation on the impact of ‘learning through play’ on primary school teachers and students in Ukraine.


“There’s a significant body of work now that indicates learning through play is not only beneficial for developing skills in primary school, but could also be a valuable response to the major challenges of keeping students and teachers engaged and motivated,” Ms Parker shared.


The LEGO Foundation’s Chair of Learning through Play Dr Bo Stjerne Thomsen and Ms Parker were keynote speakers at Research Conference 2023 on the theme, ‘Becoming lifelong learners: Improving the continuity of learning from birth to 12 years’. They said there is often poor understanding of what learning through play can bring beyond its preschool application.


“Our research and other work by the LEGO Foundation shows that learning through play contributes to better student social-emotional skills and mental health at a time when concern about these issues is high,” Ms Parker said.


“The approach also allows for teachers to have greater agency in developing and responding to student learning – work conditions shown to reduce stress, provide greater job satisfaction and contribute to teacher retention.”


Dr Thomsen said children learning through play show increased engagement as well as enhanced problem-solving, communication, decision-making and creative skills. This is because a single playful activity could be leveraged to foster a range of skills including literacy and numeracy and social-emotional skills such as perspective, turn-taking, and healthy interactions.


“We need to have a strong foundation in children’s social and emotional well-being. Before a child can demonstrate the resilience to try something new, they must feel mentally and physically well, safe, secure and have a sense of belonging,” Dr Thomsen said. “And that’s exactly what is needed during these times of uncertainty.”


Now is also a critical time to support educators, Dr Thomsen said.


“Teachers around the world are reeling from the impact of the global pandemic on their profession and students. We need to support their joy of teaching and provide practical ways that they can find meaning and more time for positive interactions with children.”


Ms Parker noted research from Western Australia, in which 91 per cent of preschool-to-year three educators responding to a survey said play-based teaching should be a high priority in the early years, and 82 per cent wanted more play-based learning in class.


However, expectations for assessment, particularly the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), affected decisions around increasing or improving play-based learning. Many teachers also reported that pedagogical decisions were largely out of their control.


“When school leaders and teaching teams dedicate sufficient time and resources to playful teaching and learning via school wide approaches, benefits include improved student socio-emotional skills, staff retention and learner growth across a range of areas,” Ms Parker said.


“We’re starting to see these results at a Tasmanian primary school where the majority of students were experiencing disadvantage, and a new K-12 state school in NSW.”


Learn more about the work of ACER here. ACER’s 2023 conference website is available here. 

Download The Sector's new App!

ECEC news, jobs, events and more anytime, anywhere.

Download App on Apple App Store Button Download App on Google Play Store Button