Play-based learning and intentional teaching: Forever different?

Susan Edwards

Play-based learning is a cornerstone of early childhood education provision. Play provides opportunities for young children to explore ideas, experiment with materials and express new understandings. Play can be solitary, quiet and reflective. Play can also be social, active and engaging. While play is commonly understood as the basis for learning in early childhood education, this is not always the situation in all settings. Cultural variations in learning and play suggest that social interactions and observational learning also create powerful pedagogical learning environments for young children. International and national research highlights the value of sustained and reflective interactions between children and educators in promoting children’s learning. Increasingly, the notion of quality in play-based pedagogy invites educators to integrate traditional beliefs about play with new insights into the role of social interactions, modelling and relationships in young children’s learning.

Overseas, the movement towards quality play-based pedagogy reflects debate and policy initiatives captured by the notion of intentional teaching. In Australia, the Early Years Learning Framework makes explicit reference to intentional teaching. Intentional teaching arguably engages educators and children in shared thinking and problem solving to build the learning outcomes of young children. However, the pedagogical relationship between play-based learning and intentional teaching remains difficult to conceptualise. This is because the value placed on the exploratory potential of play-based learning can appear to be at odds with the role of intentional teaching in promoting knowledge development. This paper reaches beyond binary constructs of play and intentional teaching, and invites consideration of a new Pedagogical Play-framework for inspiring pedagogical and curriculum innovation in the early years.

This paper was a keynote address at the 2016 Early Childhood Australia National Conference addressing the theme Inspire—be inspired to reach beyond quality.

Australasian Journal of Early Childhood—Volume 42 Number 2 June 2017.

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