Learning through play and leisure 

A guiding principle of the National Quality Framework that informs the development of our education and care programs is the view that all children are capable and competent learners who have agency. There is also a long-standing body of evidence showing that children learn best through a play-based program.

The National Quality Standard (NQS) encourages educators to facilitate and extend each child’s learning and development. This can be supported through a play-based program by using practice that is thoughtful, intentional, collaborative and responsive to the everyday flow of experiences and events for children and educators.

When educators collaborate with children to design and implement a play-based program, they are providing children with opportunities to learn as they discover, create, improvise, test theories, imagine and engage with others. 

For school age children, learning is supported through play and leisure when educators act with intentionality to build on children’s interests and nurture their developing life skills. This can be achieved by ensuring the program complements their experiences, opportunities and relationships at school, at home and in the community.

Intentional and responsive educators actively engage in children’s learning and share decision-making with them. They interact with children during play, routines and projects to listen to children’s ideas and thoughts, to stimulate their thinking and experiences, and to enrich their learning. They also recognise and respect children’s emerging independence and right to privacy: there will be times when it may not be appropriate to intervene or interrupt their play or leisure activities.

Educators draw on a rich repertoire of pedagogical practices to promote children’s learning including intentional teaching and when they act with intentionality (Belonging, Being and Becoming, The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia, p. 16 and My Time, Our Place, Framework for School Age Care in Australia. p. 14). Intentional teaching practices during play and leisure include:

  • Providing time, space and learning activities that facilitate thoughtful and challenging conversations with children.
  • Engaging with children by listening, showing interest and asking open ended questions to encourage thinking and conversation.
  • Using a range of communication strategies that involve explanations, speculation and problem solving. 
  • Collaborating with children to develop further knowledge and skills, and extend perspectives.
  • Using teaching strategies that compliment the goals for children’s learning.
  • Providing instructional/intentional support to children during play, routines and transitions.

Reflective questions and activities

These reflective questions and activities can be shared at your next team meeting to unpack how you and the educator team use intentional teaching strategies to support children’s learning and development through play: 

  • During children’s play, how responsive are we to their ideas, thinking and interests? 
    • Activity: share an example of how you have collaborated with children to further develop their knowledge and skills through play. 
  • How do planned or intentional aspects of the program support spontaneous play and leisure experiences initiated by children? 
    • Activity: Reflect on the children’s program and identify the experiences and activities that have been intentionally planned to complement the goals that have been set for children’s learning. Brainstorm ways that you could engage children and families in identifying and setting meaningful and relevant learning outcomes and goals. 

Resources to support your learning

ACECQA – Guide to the National Quality Framework

Commonwealth of Australia Responding to children’s play

Commonwealth of Australia Sustained, shared thinking

Early Childhood Australia Finding the balance: Play-based learning and intentional teaching