Academics and the young child: In support of play-based learning

Viv schoolIn Australia, we start academics very young! Way too young in our opinion! Some children are still just 4 years old when they start their formal schooling. These very young kiddos are expected to sit still and learn to read, write and understand mathematical concepts. Many schools even expect their Kindergarten students to do homework after an already long day of learning at school! #headshake

We are strong advocates for play based learning for young children, and we’re not alone! There is an ever-growing body of research telling us that play is the single most important tool in teaching things like social, emotional, physical and thinking skills in kids under 8 years*. In their 2018 “Learning Through Play” document, UNICEF state that “active, play-based learning approaches can transform the educational experiences of children in the early primary grades and strengthen learning motivation and outcomes”. They go on to say that “Play-based learning continues to be critical [for children aged up to 8 years], yet it is often neglected in favour of academic-focused education approaches”. You can find this great document from UNICEF here:

So what can you do as a parent?

  • Don’t be in too much of a rush for your child to start Kindergarten. If they are able to stay in preschool for an extra year, then we encourage you to do that. This will mean that they have had an extra year of play which will help them to learn skills like getting on with others, creative problem solving, managing their emotions and controlling their impulses. These are all essential skills for school life;
  • If your child is already at school, you can speak to your child’s class teacher and ask them how they are using play to support your child’s learning;
  • Give your child’s school a copy of the UNICEF “Learning Through Play” document. There is a great section on integrating playful learning into the school environment;
  • Try not to over-schedule your child’s afternoons and weekends. Focus instead on unstructured play time, where your child can explore and express their creativity freely;
  • Ditch the homework! (Did you know that there is no evidence to say that homework actually helps to improve a child’s academic performance anyway?).

We’d love to hear your thoughts about using a play based approach for learning. Is your child’s school doing an awesome job with this? Please share in the comments section below.


All text and images copyright Stepping Stones, unless stated otherwise. © 2019


*You can learn more about play research here:

Chopsticks and counting chips: Do play and foundational skills need to compete for the teacher’s attention in an early childhood classroom? Spotlight on Young Children and Play, Bodrova, E. and Leong, D., 2004.

The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds, Pediatrics, Ginsburg, K.R. and the AAP Committee on Communications, and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health (2007)

Why Play = Learning, Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development, Hirsh-Pasek, K. and Golinkoff, R.M, 2008.

Lester, S. & Russell, S. (2008). Play for a change. Play policy and practice: A review of contemporary perspectives. Play England. Retrieved 21.6.2010 from media/120519/play-for-a-change-summary.pdf

Children’s Right to Play: An examination of the importance of play in the lives of children worldwide, Lester, S. and Russell, W., 2010.

The Power of Play. A Research Summary on Play and Learning, Minnesota Children’s Museum.

Making the case for play policy: Research-based reasons to support play-based environments. Young Children, Steglin, D. A., 2005.


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