At Aurora Early Education, we are continuously reflecting on our practices and curriculum, and look to industry and educational experts for inspiration. A recent article in The Sector by Dr Michele Pelden (republished from Big Fat Smile) explored the meaningful and long lasting value that play brings into our children’s lives highlighting how early education and primary school environments can be designed to promote learning through play. Dr Pelden asks readers, parents and educators to “consider all the developmental and learning benefits your child and their friends are gaining from each carefully planned and implemented learning space.”
This prompted us to reflect on our Aurora Curriculum and consider how our Key Focus Areas (KFAs) encourage learning through play.
Play-based Learning at Aurora
A child-centric approach to learning is of paramount importance at Aurora, this is why play-based learning is part of our curriculum and incorporated into our nine KFA’s. In a child’s early years, we believe learning is best obtained through love and play whereby our children should feel loved, safe and comfortable in our environment which then allows them to play and learn prosperously. With a secure environment, play-based learning essentially enhances a wide range of abilities for our children intellectually, physically, socially and creatively, in a more uplifting and engrossing way. Through encouraging interactions with fundamental subjects, play-based learning allows children to build on the meanings of things and associate it with an activity to further develop their understanding of the topic at hand.
Early educational teaching has greatly evolved over time to find the best methods suited to children in today’s world. This approach may vary from most parents’ early childhood experiences, however with research and practice, we see that through play-based learning, our children can further connect with their world and develop healthy imaginations, understanding, and co-operation rapidly compared to other methods.
Aurora’s Key Focus Areas
At Aurora, we have nine Key Focus Areas (KFAs), each of which are integrated into our daily programs. These KFAs have been selected to ensure holistic learning, development and growth. Here, we consider how our KFAs are best explored through play.
Health and Wellbeing
First and foremost, health and wellbeing is of utmost importance to all at Aurora as providing the best educational environment is essential to a child’s learning. Hygiene along with health are continuously promoted and play experiences are designed to build on children’s knowledge of safety and health. For instance, the home corner sees children making healthy balanced ‘meals’ each day, which include vegetables, grains, fruits and proteins. An outdoor area with traffic signs helps children learn about road safety as they ride their bikes.
Additionally, when considering a sound educational environment, emotional support is key to a child’s wellbeing. All our educators take on the responsibility to look out for our children’s emotional and physical needs and provide the comfort, affection, respect, and attention they require. Securing a healthy environment will then promote their willingness to play and learn, absorbing more knowledge when all other needs are met.
Self Expression and the Arts
Art is a form of self expression and is one of the best tools used in play-based learning, as it allows children to delve into their creativity and express their feelings through colour, design and construction. Painting, drawing, molding are all exceptional ways for children to express themselves. Additionally acting, singing, dancing and playing instruments are also great outlets for self expression for children. Such activities help children develop meaningful understandings of their own feelings and how to effectively channel as well as deal with them.
Children have an instinctive desire and need to move, whether they are running, jumping, climbing or throwing. Each day allows for new opportunities to play while engaging in physical education. Physical education directly impacts children’s fine motor skills, physical strength, and overall understanding of their bodies and how they work. Educators encourage play by continuously organising games including sports games that both include play but also build on children’s ability to hold, throw, catch, coordinate and work together as a team.
Listening, Reading, Writing and Recognising
Reading with children, from as young as possible, certainly advances their listening and vocabulary development. At Aurora, we strive to make storytelling a participatory activity and a part of everyday learning. We encourage our children to explore books and contribute to the story as active storytellers, and not just passive listeners.They can associate instances in their reality to those that play out in story books and further their comprehension of an occurrence. Listening, reading, writing and recognising greatly urges children to learn through play as it builds on their ability to discover and imagine different realities, characters and situations.
Construction, Engineering and Design
Living in the urban part of the world, we are surrounded by construction, engineering and design in abundance. Children take in these wondrous things and form interest and curiosity which they can explore in the form of building a block tower or creating objects out of cardboard boxes, and learning about the importance of foundations and structures whilst investigating how certain machines move. The curiosity in the environment around us positively encourages and centers around play-based learning and therefore broadens the children’s understanding of the world they know and love.
Science, Technology and Mathematics
Aurora teaches our children fundamental concepts to get them through everyday life and much more. Such concepts include counting, recognising shapes, patterns, materials, and asking why things are the way they are. Children have a high appreciation for technology and digital mediums in their learning environments. We use technology as a tool to guide their learning and show them how to use it usefully. This way, science, mathematics and technology, like many other subjects invoke curiosity which then permits them to gain more knowledge and understanding. These topics can be easily absorbed with an exciting play-based approach. Practicing numbers, and working with different figures and materials can all be learnt through playful activities that make a greater lasting impact on children.
Topics of Interest and Projects
Aurora believes in sparking passions and interests in our children and things they find meaningful to them. Whether it be arts and crafts. storytelling, reading, building or gardening, we want to encourage our children to take their interests home with them and bring them to life through projects. Learning through play doesn’t solely begin and end at the early learning center. Play-based learning can happen in any environment, especially in a home environment. Interests children have discovered and learnt about at the centre should be explored at home too, doing so will only further their progress in a particular skill or combination of skills.
We follow the theory of Biophilic Practices —which refers to the love of nature, it establishes that we all have a genetic connection to the earth and its agrarian setting. Basking in the warmth of the sun, breathing fresh air and nurturing new life all make an exceptional environment to play, and also forms harmony between the human body and nature. Research shows, incorporating elements of nature into the curriculum, like gardening for instance, will result in reduced stress, balanced vitals, as well as promote productivity, creativity and overall well-being. Not only does nature prove to be a great playful environment, the benefits of interacting with nature additionally enhance the behaviour and willingness to learn through play in any environment.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
At Aurora it is important for us to understand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and contributions. Practices must have a deep understanding of Australia and is current landscape as well as the history of our land and peoples. It is important to always ensure that we are representing and acknowledging the importance of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in our daily practice as well as special events. We also must ensure the experiences and teachings about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture are respectful, meaningful and are an embedded part of our curriculum.
Children immerse themselves in our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander table which includes painting experiences, books, natural implements and other items that, through play help them develop a richer understanding of the culture. When you visit an Aurora, or indeed an early education center, pause to observe how children are playing and how experiences laid out facilitate this play. It’s also important to consider how educators observe this play and intentionally use child-directed play to build on children’s knowledge and learning.