Varied tools and techniques abound when it comes to learning. We all want to know how best to obtain information and retain it. When it comes to our children, we become especially intent on knowing how they can learn and use the knowledge they gain to their advantage. 

Guided play: A tool for effective learning

Children go through the learning process at their own pace, which means they also have different ways of understanding learning concepts. This is why educators are compelled to study and design pedagogical tools to promote efficient learning particularly in early childhood literacy and development.

One of these pedagogical methods employed in preschool education is guided play. It is a form of play where children are allowed to learn by themselves within an environment prepared by adults. In contrast to free play, where children engage in free and unstructured play activities, guided play involves adult direction. By setting learning goals, adults have a certain hand in directing how children learn while still allowing them a large percentage of control. 

Tips on how to maximise guided play in childhood learning

1.Be an active observer. Note what catches your child’s attention the most and structure activities according to his preferences. Allot time to join your child during playtime so you can figure out how to best draw out his skills and talents. For example, if your child is fascinated with arts and crafts, devise fun activities that involve drawing, painting, or making things. Encourage language development and thinking skills by asking them why they chose that colour or design, for instance. Asking open-ended questions at key moments or utilizing play materials that encourage a certain kind of exploration, steers them to think and communicate what they are doing.

2.Follow their lead. Even though adults are instrumental in guided play, children should still take the lead. Allow their imagination to take them to worlds that appeal to them and they will certainly be motivated to learn more. Giving them the autonomy to explore as they like will most likely guarantee that they spend more time on the activity and give them a boost of confidence and satisfaction at being in control. Also be mindful not to take over the activity. Adult or peer support will help in gently shaping their behaviour and promote better learning.

3.Mix and match. Unobtrusively incorporate academic concepts that are important into playtime. This way, the topics that they discuss in school may be gently mixed with guided play to make it more fun and interesting. It is said that children grasp learning concepts better when they enjoy what they are learning, so matching school subjects seamlessly to playtime activities could be an ingenious way of reviewing and making sure that their lessons are well absorbed.

4.Ask and ask some more. Being involved in your children’s playtime means you have more time to process learning concepts. Interject with questions at the right moments and prod them with queries that will grease their mind’s wheels to turn. For example, ask how they think cars work while they are assembling a toy car, or what similar colours they see in the environment while dressing up their dolls. You can also ask questions that will demonstrate cause and effect (e.g. “If we mix this and this, what do you think will be the result?”) or make and test hypotheses (“If we do this, what do you think will happen?”

5.Share information. You are there to guide and support your children so let this be a time to share information. As you play, you can give background information (e.g. Did you know that it was Nils Bohlin who invented the three-point safety belt?) while playing in bumper cars, for example. You can also provide explanations and provide descriptions on how things relate to information that they already know. This is also an excellent opportunity for you to check or straighten out facts should their understanding of a certain matter be incorrect.

Guided play is an equally effective method of enhancing conversation and communication skills, creativity and competence. It is a significant channel for literacy development and as they engage in playful activities, children are given the chance to reveal what concepts they already know such as in reading and writings systems. Since adult intervention can assist children’s literacy development in addition to cognitive, affective and psychomotor skills, it is advantageous for both children and their parents to spend time and learn together.