Learning Through Play

At Otonga School the child is at the center of the learning. This is because we know that everyone comes here with their own passions, wonderings, questions, strengths and needs.


Play is a child’s natural way of exploring the world we live in. Play covers all aspects of learning – physical, social, emotional and cognitive. It provides learning opportunities that are interactive, multi-sensory, creative and imaginative. Children are not only learning about the activity or working towards an outcome, they are engaging with each other, negotiating, sorting out arguments and fostering friendships.

Achieving an appropriate balance between direct instruction (viewed as the more traditional method of teaching) and self-directed, exploratory learning is the “art of teaching”
(Robinson & Aronica, 2015, p.103).

Why is Play important?

The New Zealand Curriculum identifies and values the Key Competencies. All of these can be developed through play-based learning. With recent developments in research, play has been confirmed as the most developmentally appropriate education to promote healthy childhood development.

The link between Learning Through Play, physical movement and the successful development of key executive functioning skills are now viewed as of utmost importance for the adult workforce in the 21st Century. Executive Functioning skills help us plan, focus, remember instructions and complete tasks.

The new NZ Curriculum Refresh means that all students are reflected in the curriculum and it is their voice that is important. We are teaching people not subjects. Our curriculum needs to be personalised, inclusive, culturally responsive, broader and deeper.

Learning Through Play responds to this.

Play is researched, developmentally appropriate practice, fun and engaging. Play is natural to all human beings. It enables children to learn values and habits for learning (dispositions) – Communication, Curiosity, Problem Solving, Creativity and Risk Taking. Play promotes Emotional and Self-Regulation and Oral Language.

Some people misunderstand the word ‘play’ as they don’t have a full understanding of play in an educational setting. It is often thought of as just being silly, laughing, and playing games. This misunderstanding may result from misconceptions, lack of knowledge, or narrowed perspectives. 

Some misunderstandings about play – Leslee Allen

When we play and have fun, there are many things that happen under the surface. We also communicate using various signals, express and regulate emotions, connect, develop trust, and so many other skills. We rather say that we learn through play.


What about Reading, Writing and Maths?

While play is an important part of learning, so too are skills in literacy and numeracy. Children still get explicit teaching in Reading, Writing and Mathematics, based on their needs.

Year 1-3

Play-based Learning fosters and provides smooth transitions for our new entrant students as the learning environments are similar to those they have known in ECE settings. Our spaces help us incorporate the School Values, Key Competencies and Dispositions essential in the NZC. Play curriculum has great relevance in the school setting.

Year 4-6

In Year 4-6, Inquiry, STEAM, Hands-on and Project-based Learning take an integrated approach to learning and teaching. This requires an intentional connection between curriculum learning objectives, standards, assessments, and lesson design/implementation.

This approach ensures we have passionate, open-minded and resilient students who have a genuine love for learning by exploring, creating, and experimenting. Students are able to become confident learners as they can question the world around them and use what they have learnt in real life contexts.

Teaching Through Play – Play-based Learning Observation Tool (P-BLOT)

(Dr Sarah Aiono & Associate Professor Tara McLaughlin, 2018)

This tool enables teachers to clearly identify their strengths and areas of need regarding play pedagogy, and will be able to provide a clear outline as to the progress our teachers make in embedding evidence-based pedagogy in their daily practice.

Our Teachers will engage in evidence-based play pedagogies reflecting what works best when teaching and learning through play for students in an inclusive setting.

Teachers will be inspired to recognise that their learners can take control of their own learning and to have confidence in the creative abilities of all children. Teachers are encouraged to promote and advocate for developmentally appropriate teaching practices and learning opportunities for all children in our school environment.