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What is The Play-Based Learning Continuum?

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In Ontario, teacher views regarding if and when they should intervene during play continue to be diverse, and some teachers almost exclusively demonstrate one type of play in their classrooms: free play. The continuum outlines five distinct categories of play: learning through games, playful learning, collaboratively created play, inquiry play, and free play. All five categories of play present important opportunities for personal, social, and academic growth, while incorporating various levels of adult involvement. This continuum, with a broader and more concrete definition of play-based learning, will help to enhance the practice of play-based learning pedagogies for kindergarten teachers.

Child-Centered vs. Child-Directed

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Child-centeredness emphasizes honouring children and their developmental needs, whereas child-directedness emphasizes the level of control of the child. The play-based continuum is entirely child-centered, emphasizing the importance of teaching academic concepts in an engaging and developmentally appropriate manner, expanding on children’s interests, and utilizing play-based strategies that match children’s abilities. However, not all types of play on the continuum are child-directed, and a distinction needs to be made between these two concepts. An activity that contains teacher-directed elements can be child-centered in nature.

Play-Based Learning vs. Play


The purpose of play-based learning is inherent in its title: to learn while at play. The purpose of play, on the other hand, is far more open-ended and frequently the topic of debate. Learning does not need to occur in order for an activity to be seen as play, hence play-based learning and play are distinct constructs. When play and learning become two separate concepts, learning is restricted to small and large group direct instruction and play is limited to child-directed free play. The continuum creates a more broadened definition of play-based learning, and moves us beyond the strict distinction between play and learning.

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