Children are constantly learning, even when we don’t realize it. The absolute best way for young children to learn is through what they do best, play! But just because you are allowing you child to learn through play doesn’t mean there aren’t things that you can do to facilitate that learning.
The basic idea of "play-based" learning is that the child chooses activities based on his current interest. This differs from "academic" learning in that academic consists of a teacher/parent directed activities. Meaning, there is more of a plan and structure.
Here are some ways that I cultivate a play-based learning environment for my three year old:
1) I keep books out for him to grab at any time.
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"Put your books away" is not something you will hear me say during the day. Ever. Sure, at night we put all of our toys to "sleep" but during the day it is not at all uncommon for my son to have books on the floor, on the table, on the couch and in his bed!
2) I prepare a themed craft or activity.
I do provide a regular craft or activity for my son but he does not have to do it. Though, it's extremely rare that he doesn't want to. He's usually following me around saying "project, time!" while I'm getting the supplies ready to set out on his table.
3) Most cupboards in the kitchen are fair game.
With the exception of the pantry and the cupboard with glass, I don't prohibit my son from opening cupboards and pulling things out to play with. I do this because many of the items in a kitchen promote imaginative or sensory play.
5) I intentionally group toys by color.
I try very hard to be as child-centered as possible when teaching my son. One thing I do to help him learn his colors is, I group toys together by color. For example, I recently noticed that my son had red and orange down pat and the others not as much. So, I grouped his ball bit balls and blocks by color, only leaving one color out for a few days and then switching them. He had no clue that I was trying to teach him his colors, he just played as usual!
5) I carefully select my son's toys.
I have tried really hard to keep a good handle on my son's toys, making sure they serve a purpose. Every Christmas and birthday, I create a wish list on Amazon that family members can order from or at the very least get an idea of the types of toys he could use. On occasion, someone will go rogue but it doesn't happen too often at all!
6) All toys are easily accessible.
With the exception of toys that just take up too much space (like his ball pit and tunnel), all of my son's toys are easily accessible to him. As of right now, we don't have any shelves. The majority of his toys are in buckets on the ground. His trains are in the drawer of his train table and stuffed animals and costumes are in a toy bin that he can get things our of on his own.