What does theory say about play-based and inquiry learning?
There is a long history of theories evidencing the strong interconnection between play and learning, particularly in the acquisition of social, emotional and cognitive skills.
This dates to the early theories of Parten's social behaviour theory, Piaget's cognitive developmental theory, psychoanalytic theories and socio-cultural theories.
Research has also identified play to be a vehicle for the learning and development of a wide range of capabilities and skills, such as self-regulation (Vygotsky, 1978; Ivanova, 20000; Hoffman, 2020); language (Smilansky & Shefatya, 1990; Stagnitti and colleagues 2000; 2007; 2009; 2015; 2020); and executive function associated with metacognitive learning processes (Bodrova & Leong, 2007; Karpov, 2005; 2014).
Teacher as player in play-based and inquiry approaches.
More contemporary theories, such as socio-cultural theory (Vygotsky, 1978) and cultural historical theory (Hedegaard, 2008; Fleer, 2009; 2011) position the teacher’s role as significant in student’s play experiences, as learning is now considered to be co-constructed.
This means creating a collaborative learning environment, where students are acknowledged as capable and agentic learners, and adults extend and promote new learning through their intentional interactions with students in play.
The teacher’s role in linking play and learning
All theories demonstrate that play holds value in a student’s learning, however what more recent ideas add to this, is the importance of adult interaction in play to maximise the learning potential of play experiences.
Teachers must scaffold and support the learning within the student’s play. Play-based and inquiry learning is much more than just having play stations available and freely accessible for students.
Research is increasingly showing that settings where students are predominately left to engage in undirected free play, are the least successful environments for student learning, development, engagement and behaviour (e.g., Robertson, Yim & Paatsch, 2020; Zosh et al., 2018; Sylva et al., 2010; Mashburn, 2008).
Integrated teaching and learning in action
The following video discusses the multiple roles of teachers in student’s play within an overview of VEYLDF Practice Principle 7 Integrated Teaching and Learning.
As you are watching this video pay particular attention to the examples of adult-guided play and learning and think about how you provide opportunities for students to learn through play.