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Play the way to motivate teachers and students

Media release 4 minute read

Learning through play is highly effective in improving student and teacher wellbeing and could help address two of the biggest challenges in education today, experts say.

Rachel Parker, Senior Research Fellow with the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) is leading a longitudinal study with the LEGO Foundation on the impact of ‘learning through play’ on primary school teachers and students in Ukraine.

“There’s a significant body of work now that indicates learning through play is not only beneficial for developing skills in primary school, but could also be a valuable response to the major challenges of keeping students and teachers engaged and motivated,” Ms Parker says.

The LEGO Foundation’s Chair of Learning through Play, Dr Bo Stjerne Thomsen, and Ms Parker are keynote speakers at Research Conference 2023 – on the theme, ‘Becoming lifelong learners: Improving the continuity of learning from birth to 12 years’ –  in Sydney today. They say there is often poor understanding of what learning through play can bring beyond its preschool application.

Our research and other work by the LEGO Foundation shows that learning through play contributes to better student social-emotional skills and mental health at a time when concern about these issues is high,” Ms Parker says.

“The approach also allows for teachers to have greater agency in developing and responding to student learning – work conditions shown to reduce stress, provide greater job satisfaction and contribute to teacher retention.”

Dr Thomsen says children learning through play show increased engagement as well as enhanced problem-solving, communication, decision-making and creative skills. This is because a single playful activity could be leveraged to foster a range of skills including literacy and numeracy and social-emotional skills such as perspective, turn-taking, and healthy interactions.

“We need to have a strong foundation in children’s social and emotional well-being. Before a child can demonstrate the resilience to try something new, they must feel mentally and physically well, safe, secure and have a sense of belonging,” Dr Thomsen says. “And that’s exactly what is needed during these times of uncertainty.”

Now is also a critical time to support educators, Dr Thomsen says.

“Teachers around the world are reeling from the impact of the global pandemic on their profession and students. We need to support their joy of teaching and provide practical ways that they can find meaning and more time for positive interactions with children.”

Ms Parker noted research from Western Australia, in which 91% of preschool-to-year 3 educators responding to a survey said play-based teaching should be a high priority in the early years, and 82% wanted more play-based learning in class.

However, expectations for assessment, particularly the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), affected decisions around increasing or improving play-based learning. Many teachers also reported that pedagogical decisions were largely out of their control.

“When school leaders and teaching teams dedicate sufficient time and resources to playful teaching and learning via school wide approaches, benefits include improved student socio-emotional skills, staff retention and learner growth across a range of areas,” Ms Parker said.

“We’re starting to see these results at a Tasmanian primary school where the majority of students were experiencing disadvantage, and a new K-12 state school in NSW.”


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ACER Communications
+61 419 340 058