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Many young children may lack play opportunities in their local environment. Schools therefore, need to teach children how to play.

This aspect is often difficult to plan. However, if you get it right, children’s learning overall is accelerated. Well- planned play actively engages the child. When they are completely engrossed, they show high levels of brain and physical activity. Through play, they practise and rehearse new ideas, increase in confidence and take risks. Children learn to interact socially, develop resilience, feel contented and experience moments of excitement. They problem solve and improve their memory skills.

Play has been described as “scientific research conducted by children”. Therefore, teaching should include worthwhile and challenging play opportunities on different levels and through all areas and aspects of the curriculum. Allocating times in the day for play-based learning requires a great deal of effort for the teaching team, but the benefits for children are tremendous.

Below are a few points to consider when planning for chosen play.

Get organised: Initially it is essential to organise all the resources into containers. Photograph the contents and stick these onto the container. This helps children to know exactly where to return the equipment they use, once their activity is completed. This fosters independence, responsibility, observation, creativity, self-esteem and the capacity to learn independently.

Designate an area: Create separate learning areas or zones. Make sure that vigorous physical play does not encroach on quieter play activities. Allocate appropriate and specific numbers of children allowed in each area/zone at one time. This allows all to benefit and have good access to the resources. It also prevents overcrowding.

Get involved: Talk with children while they are playing. Ask open questions.
Note the children who have attended the various activities. Teachers can then discuss and assess what individual children have achieved and discovered. This helps with planning the next steps to extend learning. Children will quickly realise that adults value purposeful play.

Plan for play: Base planning for play around a specific theme or topic. Provide activities that consolidate children’s skills, knowledge and understanding of the new ideas being taught. By making these links between teacher input and subsequent self- chosen activity, children consolidate and develop new learning in ways that best suit them. It is essential, to plan a good range of free choice activities. Make sure the activities require children to think while engaged. Ensure that all aspects/areas of learning are included to inspire all children to become engaged in the activities.

Simplify: Introduce a simple topic about transport, for example, including information about buses, cars, metro, planes, boats, trains, bicycles, etc. Children may choose to ride tricycles slowly and quickly or send toy vehicles down a ramp to compare speed. From pictures, children may draw or paint vehicles with detail. With boxes and cardboard, they can make models of vehicles. They may count the school buses, make a block graph of how children travel to school, and compare the number of wheels on different vehicles. They may make a simple sailing boat and try to make it move in water without touching it. They may browse various books about vehicles.

  • Discuss free-choice ideas with the teaching team.
  • Allocate a person responsible for setting up and resourcing the activity making sure resources are appropriate and plentiful.
  • Ensure adults engage children in relevant conversation and open questions during their activities.
  • Train children to tidy equipment away before they leave the area.


Hughes (1996, 1998) Paraphrasing Eibl- Eibesfeldt (1970) “The Biology of Behaviour”

Bruner J S, Jolly A, Sylva K. 1976 “Play: Its Role in Development and Evolution”

By Gianna Ulyatt

Gianna has extensive experience as a teacher, principal, and inspector. She is a consultant with expertise in KG and has spoken at conferences in Hong Kong, Spain and the U.K. She sometimes works in the UAE. To connect with her, email giannaulyatt@

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