Play-based Learning Defined

  • child playing with string

UNH ECE Coaching Initiative Continuum of Play-based Learning
  • The continuum of play-based learning ranges from free play to teacher-directed play. These various forms of play are largely defined by the level of child agency and the role of the adult within each play-based experience.
  • Research has shown that children benefit in different ways from all forms of play across the continuum. Yet guided play experiences lead to the most significant learning and developmental outcomes for children.


In an effort to provide greater conceptual clarity about play-based learning and to promote shared understanding among stakeholders throughout the state, UNH Early Learning Coaching Team developed the following definition of play-based learning. This definition emphasizes the distinct benefits and importance of guided play, and defines the roles of both adult and child within this context:

  •  Play-based learning, specifically guided play, maintains the joy of free play while allowing children to connect authentically with content. When children co-construct their learning with their teachers and peers, they apply it to their own lives making meaningful, personal discoveries as they progress towards learning goals. Children naturally learn through play by engaging in and making sense of their world. Guided play is self-chosen, enjoyable, and process-oriented. These opportunities are experiences that are child-directed and teacher-facilitated in which teachers take an active role as intentional planners, observers, and guides.