The Play-Based  Learning Continuum 

Child Directed
Teacher Directed
Through Games
Free Play
Inquiry Play

Types of Play-Based Learning

Free Play

What is free play? In free play, children direct their own play and determine the resources that are used. There is little to no teacher involvement in the structure of the play.

Why do teachers use it? Teachers encourage the use of free play in the classroom to foster self-regulation, independence, and self-motivated learning.

Inquiry Play

What is inquiry play? In inquiry play, the play is child-initiated. Teachers extend the play by integrating related academic curriculum expectations.

Why do teachers use it? Teachers follow the child’s lead and expand upon their interests.

Collaborative Play

What is collaborative play? In collaborative play, teachers determine the academic skills students will develop through participation in this type of play. The teacher and students work together to design the centre and the resources to be used in the play. The children then direct the play within the created environment.

Why do teachers use it? This collaboratively created context of play provides opportunities for children to direct their own play narratives, as well as allowing natural opportunities for the teacher to integrate academic skills into the play.

Playful Learning

What is playful learning? In playful learning, the teacher directs the academic outcomes, and the children influence the play narrative. In essence, teachers set up prescribed activities that contain playful elements.

Why do teachers use it? Playful learning is used to support the learning of targeted academic skills in a manner that is playful and engaging for students. Teachers may use these prescribed activities to provide students with practice in math and literacy concepts that are part of whole class instruction.

Learning Through Games

What is learning through games? In learning through games, the teacher is in control of the process and the outcome of the activity. The child follows the teacher-prescribed rules of the games.  This is the most prescriptive type of play-based learning.

Why do teachers use it? Learning through games is used to promote discrete math and language skills. Teachers use Learning through games in order to teach curriculum expectations in an engaging manner.

To find activity examples, click here.

We are the Play Learning Lab, run by Dr. Angela Pyle at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto.



Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study

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Toronto, ON M5R 2X2

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