Play and Early Childhood Development

Table of Contents

Play and Early Childhood Development 3

Play-Based Curricula 3

Introduction 3

The Te Whāriki Approach 3

The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) 5

Playful Spaces 6

Values and Beliefs and their effects on Learning Environments 6

The Role of NQF in Promoting Playful Spaces 7

Risky Play 8

Conclusion 9

References 10

Play and Early Childhood Development

Play-Based Curricula


Play-based curricula have been looked at keenly in the paper and have been proven to be what early learners need. To sum the lecture, it was confirmed that play-based curriculum models are at all times shaped and paced by theory, ideologies, practice besides context. The lecture also concluded by asserting that the aspirations, principles, as well as practices, not forgetting the outcomes of such curricula are often influenced by the immediate and distant environment which includes the society, economy, the culture, and the history of the people where it is being implemented. All those who shape policies in the society right from educators to politicians, have the power to make an impact on these curricula. On this perspective, two curricula were discussed at length and it is at this point that they will be assessed on how they fit to be play-based curricula. They are the Te Whariki Approach which is mainly practiced in New Zealand, and the Australian system which is the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). 

The Te Whāriki Approach

The Te Whāriki Approach was brought into the educational space in 1996, 20 years ago, and it has been anchored to gravitate around the vision of producing children who are communicators beaming with confidence, and of healthy mind, body, and spirit as enumerated by Blaiklock (2010). The approach according to Lee et al., (2013), has placed special emphasis on the following four areas, first, the well-being coupled with learning, second, content that is appropriate for the respective age, third, respect and tolerance for diversity, and cultural values, and finally, values that are consistent with the emerging school needs. Blaiklock (2010) notes that the approach has the following five strands, wellbeing, belonging, contribution, communication and exploration. 

The approach assumes that the child is at the epicenter of the curriculum since the learner is at the middle of the action, surrounded by learning at different levels, which include, family, school, adults, different networks, and above all, beliefs, policies, values of the nation about children and the learning that they should be getting to support their development. The model is more play-based as it emphasizes on learning resilience besides taking risks and less of literacy and numbers. To ensure that the model is not taken back by assessment methods, the model does not allow for conventional assessment of children. Instead, it focuses on the use of narratives to assess every child. According to Hatherly (2006), the approach focuses on reflective practice to develop a picture of the child and in this way, it makes it possible to integrate assessment and play. 

Blaiklock (2010) critiques Te Whāriki Approach and observes that the approach might not have lived its promise. In his critique, Blaiklock (2010) is of the opinion that despite the extensive resources that have been pumped into the model, there is no evidence of both implementation and effectiveness of the curriculum. Blaiklock (2010) goes further to insist that the approach might have resulted to a decline in education quality especially because there is no evidence proving otherwise. The concept of structure and content of Te Whāriki has been an issue of concern. The approach does not have pay sufficient attention to the curriculum subject content due to its non-prescriptive nature. To educational centers, this means that they are free to include or not to include experiences that might be critical in the development of a child’s learning. Assessment of the approach is also something that Blaiklock (2010) is not comfortable with. Learning stories as used in the approach have been found to be inadequate in telling the progress of a child as long as learning is concerned. 

The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF)

As described by Sumsion (2009), the EYLF was approved for implantation in July of 2009 which was otherwise dubbed the “Belonging, Being, & Becoming. The model was the first national framework that was geared towards providing a guiding curriculum and pedagogy for the childhood settings. The approach, compared with New Zealand’s Te Whāriki is relatively young. In its development, EYLF incorporated ideas and feedback from different aspects of interested parties which included feedback from consultation process, online forums, and case studies. 

The developers of the model have insisted that the model envisions a situation where children experience learning aimed at engaging them besides shaping them for success in life. The model allows early childhood services to have at their disposal the ability to utilize their own strategies in a bid to implement their objectives.  The model is anchored in play and on this, it says, “Play provides opportunities for children to learn, as they discover, create, improvise and imagine. Children’s immersion in their play illustrates how play enables them to simply enjoy being” (Department of Education and Children’s Services South Australia, 2008). The model appreciates that children are engineered to learn through playing. It thus schemes learning through this natural undertaking that children undertake spontaneously. 

The EYLF conducts assessment of learning first by recognizing that children will demonstrate learning in different ways and as such, assessment should not be focused on the end points of learning and the educator’s teaching as described by Ortlipp, Arthur, & Woodrow (2011). For proper assessment of a leaner, the model requires that proper documentation of learners should be done. Documentation in this perspective provides the opportunity to share, revisit and makes learning visible to the community. Assessment should be ongoing and it should be used to inform decisions aimed at improving learning. Documentation assists in the incorporation of different members of the learning environment to come and aid in the development of better learners. 

The model has been criticized for being in contempt of the children who are not players. The model defends its model by providing that educators can use intentional strategies to teach such children in an explicit manner. Krieg (2011) critiques the model by questioning the positioning of the teacher and the learner in the model with relation to knowledge. Krieg (2011) argues that EYLF opens new identity positions for children and their educators. 

Playful Spaces 

Values and Beliefs and their effects on Learning Environments

What are learning environments? According to DEWR (2009) learning environments are spaces that are welcoming, and go further to enrich the lives and identities of children and families that are participative to learning in such settings. In the end, a learning environment should be responsive to the needs and interests of those who are in contact with it. From this definition, it is clear that learning environments are not simply about educators and without the input of learners, their families, and policy makers. Learning environments should cater for the needs of all learners despite their interests and learning capacities. All players who participate in the development of a learning environment should therefore understand that their actions with regards to learning environments, heavily determine the outcomes on the learners. Such actions are often shaped by values and beliefs held by the persons concerned. 

To contribute to the learning environments, interested parties as mentioned there above impact learning environments using ideas, interests and through asking important questions. Melhuish et al., (2008) assert that those involved should be aware that their effects and impacts on learning environments remain with the learners many years after they leave early childhood schools. According to Sikula (1996), values and attitudes are very critical in the development of a learning environment. They determine the interactions of the learner, the teacher and the family. Sikula (1996) explains that social psychology, a key element of the interaction between the learner and the environment, is a function of attitudes which are affective and beliefs which are cognitive. Concerned parties need to uphold values and beliefs that are consistent with the principles of Belonging, Being, & Becoming if they are operating under the EYLF, or the maxims of wellbeing, belonging, contribution, communication and exploration if they are operating under the Te Whāriki Approach. Learners should be viewed as ready to learn indivuduals who should not be limited by environments whether indoors or outdoors. They should be allowed to explore their limits in both environments and as such, caregivers and educators need to adopt a risk tolerant beliefs. 

The Role of NQF in Promoting Playful Spaces 

The National Quality Framework has its objectives surrounded on the need to improve quality and enhance a continuous improvement and consistency in children’s development be it in education or in care services. Of great importance to the learning environment, is the Quality Area 3. This component of the NQF is transfixed on the physical environment. On this note, the physical environment should be modeled in such a way that prioritizes safety and sustainable. The physical environment should be set in such a way that it allows access of learners to a range of experiences which are rich and diverse in their bid to promote learning and development. 

As per ACECQA (2018), the organization of the environment, its equipping, and organization has the potential to assist in the maximization of a child’s engagement, level of positive experience and inclusive relationships. To achieve all this, the National Quality Framework Quality Area 3 is very elaborate in its detailing of appropriate designs and their appropriateness. For instance, the environment facilities need to be fit for the purpose. In this, they should be supportive of every child’s need. When it comes to the use of the environment, the environment should be inclusive for all children, whether in indoor or outdoor facilities, the environment should have sufficient resources that are in support of play-based learning, and lastly, there should be an element of environmental responsibility. This element ensures that children are environmentally responsible in their growing up. 

To support NQF authorities responsible with resource allocation should ensure that each center is well furnished with sufficient resources that will help the educators in discharging their mandate in supportive environments. The environmental resources that should be provided by such facilitation include premises, furniture, materials, and equipment, hygiene facilities, space, and lighting among many other facilities. 

Risky Play

With the current happenings in the 21st century especially with issues to do with terrorism, abductions, and general security, people have become more risk averse especially with how they handle their children and the freedoms they allow the children. It has become rather obnoxious for parents especially with their kids playing outside. As such, children are in most cases retained indoors and are perpetually withdrawn from the natural environment. In this pursuit of ‘safety’ we have created play environments that are devoid of natural adventure and interest. According to the National Quality Standard Professional Learning Program (2013), 73% of people who were parents during the time of the survey admitted to having played more outdoors but only 13% of the same adults allow their children outside play. Only 10% of children played outside according to the report by the National Quality Standard Professional Learning Program (2013). 

Children should be encouraged to engage in risky play. Though such adventures children are able to assess risks and learn effectively about their personal limits and interests. Adults, in their capacities as caregivers, educators, or parents, need to provide children with the skills and abilities to spot risk and devise mechanisms to mitigate such risks. This is important in equipping them with the abilities to engage with the world where things are not as structured as they might be indoors. To ensure that risks and hazards are kept at safe levels, adult care givers should evaluate them and take appropriate action to win the confidence of the parents especially if it in a school setting. One way to ensure that this happens, according to Little, Sandseter & Wyver (2012), is to ensure that the caregiver or the educator gives sufficient attention to factors that are concerned with outdoor play. They include, the environment, regulations, and the legal aspects of such play. Policies should be developed to provide developmentally challenging environments that are important in the physical and mental development of a child. Brussoni et al. (2012) warns that imposing to much restrictions on a child’s outdoor risky play will hinder their development. 


Having a look at both the Te Whāriki Approach and the Early Years Learning Framework, we find that these two models are quite similar especially in their set up, assessment and strategies for improvement. The Australian side has managed to bring into order the early years’ learners’ interests together by making one complete block of reference that all early childhood educators will be using. As such, the model encourages cohesion and concerted efforts in the delivery and research of early childhood education development. As the critiques of both models had it, more research is needed to assess and determine the actual benefits of the models as compared to what has been there traditionally. 

It can be said with an aura of confidence that play, when it comes to early years’ learners forms a critical part in their development. As such, it falls squarely on the caregivers and educators to provide sufficient play spaces which are awash with sufficient risks to stimulate and sustain the development of such kids mental and physical wellbeing. 


ACECQA. (2018). Quality Area 3 – Physical environment. ACECQA website. Retrieved from

Blaiklock, K. (2010). Te Whāriki, the New Zealand early childhood curriculum: Is it effective? International Journal of Early Years Education, 18(3), 201-212.

Brussoni, M., Olsen, L. L., Pike, I., & Sleet, D. A. (2012). Risky play and children’s safety: Balancing priorities for optimal child development. International journal of environmental research and public health, 9(9), 3134-3148.

Department of Education and Children’s Services South Australia. (2008). Assessing for learning and development in the early years using observation scales: reflect, respect, relate. hindmarsh, SA: DECS publishing.Details available at

Hatherly, A. (2006). The Stories We Share: Using Narrative Assessment to Build Communities of Literacy Participants in Early Childhood Centres. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 31(1), 27-34.

Krieg, S. (2011). The Australian early years learning framework: Learning what?. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 12(1), 46-55.

Lee, W., Carr, M., Soutar, B., & Mitchell, L. (2013). Understanding the Te Whariki approach: Early years education in practice. Routledge.

Little, H., Sandseter, E. B. H., & Wyver, S. (2012). Early childhood teachers’ beliefs about children’s risky play in Australia and Norway. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 13(4), 300-316.

Melhuish, E. C., Phan, M. B., Sylva, K., Sammons, P., Siraj‐Blatchford, I., & Taggart, B. (2008). Effects of the home learning environment and preschool center experience upon literacy and numeracy development in early primary school. Journal of Social Issues, 64(1), 95-114.

National Quality Standard Professional Learning Program. (2013). Talking about practice: Adventurous Play-Developing a culture of risky play.  Retrieved from

Ortlipp, M., Arthur, L., & Woodrow, C. (2011). Discourses of the early years learning framework: Constructing the early childhood professional. Contemporary issues in early childhood, 12(1), 56-70.

Sumsion, J., Barnes, S., Cheeseman, S., Harrison, L., Kennedy, A., & Stonehouse, A. (2009). Insider perspectives on developing belonging, being & becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Australasian journal of early childhood, 34(4), 4-13.

Sikula J. (Ed.). (1996). Handbook of research on teacher education (second edition, pp. 102-119). New
York: Macmillan.

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