Learning Through Play

When Future Smart Inclusive School opened its doors, we held on tight to our philosophy of our students learning through play. Additionally, we follow the Reggio Emilia Approach instead of the more widespread (in Pakistan), Montessori. The approach gives us flexibility and freedom to adapt to the unique needs of each child. In the very beginning it was somewhat difficult to explain this philosophy to parents, but as time goes on, more and more parents are beginning to understand what this could mean for their children.


Why is Learning Through Play Important

Defining play is tricky, yet we all know what playing is when we see it. For clarity, we include structured and unstructured play when we use the word “play” or “playing”. Children’s interests often drive their play-based activities. The resources (toys and other materials) at school aid children’s play activities meaningfully.


The most crucial period in a person’s life is between birth and age 8. This has been established through extensive scientific research over the past three decades. Language, cognition, emotion, social and other skills are developed during this time. Although learning is a lifelong process, the learning in this phase of life is unparalleled. Infants, toddlers and young children learn at faster rates when compared to any other stage in life. Children go to preschool at the age of  3 or 4. This is roughly the middle of early childhood. Future success in school and beyond school is rooted in this period.


learn and play


Building Skills through Play

Play is one of the most effective ways for children to build essential skills and gain knowledge. Because of this, opportunities to play and explore with hands-on learning are at the centre of effective preschool and early childhood programmes in many countries.


When playing, children learn to:

  • Use logical and analytical reasoning
  • Communicate and negotiate with others
  • Draw plans and follow them
  • Learn problem-solving through trial and error
  • Use creativity and imagination


Because most learning and skill-building occur in early childhood, there is no better substitute than playing. Unfortunately, no textbook will teach a 4-year-old how to talk, walk, or use logical reasoning. But the great news is that the child can learn through interactions with others and through play! These skills are developed through practice. Scientific research on the topic revealed that it becomes harder to learn around the age of 12 (1). Then, by age 25, patterns solidify and become difficult to change. That doesn’t mean learning ends at 12. It just means that it would require extra effort.


The Approach in Action

Several countries are following the “learning through play” formula and have successfully generated academic success in higher grades. We will illustrate this with one example. Finland’s school system has ranked number 1 on Europe’s rankings for several years. This is because their education policy focuses on play during the critical 0-8 years phase (note: in Finland, children start school at 7), and even in higher grades, students are encouraged to explore and learn in ways that complement their learning style.


Obstacles to Integrating Play in Preschool Settings

Learning through play sounds like a wonderful idea, doesn’t it? But in many countries, including Pakistan, little or no value is attached to playing as a fundamental tool for laying educational foundations.


When we drive to school in the morning, we feel sad seeing preschool children carry heavy school bags. And in the afternoons, these tiny tots are then headed to after-school tuitions. While research and global best practices lean in favour of play for vital early childhood education, Pakistan’s future tires because of carrying a heavy burden on their backs.


The misconceptions about playing led to the failure of schools to provide ample opportunities to play. These obstacles are discussed below.


Rote memorisation  (the old ratta method) and recall of information are the mainstays of many educational institutions. However, educators, school administrators and even parents may not realise the crucial role of play in developing children’s understanding of literacy, mathematical and science skills. Many people believe that play is frivolous and wastes time children can spend “learning”. These misconceptions and lack of understanding about the benefits of play result in parents not demanding opportunities to play for their children. 


learning through play



1. Janacsek K, Fiser J, Nemeth D. The best time to acquire new skills: age-related differences in implicit sequence learning across the human lifespan. Dev Sci. 2012 Jul;15(4):496-505. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2012.01150.x. Epub 2012 Apr 5. PMID: 22709399; PMCID: PMC3383816.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *