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Characteristics of Effective Learning-Playing and Exploring

The Characteristics of Effective Learning (CoEL) are defined as the ways children learn and explore their environment. There are three established areas: Playing and Exploring; Active Learning; and Creating and Thinking Critically. These three areas are broken down into further subsections, outlining specific criteria in each one.

Playing and Exploring comprises the following categories:

  • Finding out and exploring
  • Playing with what they know
  • Being willing to ‘have a go’

Each of these categories are then further divided into more subsections (*see table at end of article).

Photographer: Joseph Rosales | Source: Unsplash

This article covers the first subsection within Playing and Exploring- Finding out and exploring:

Showing curiosity about objects, events and people

What Practitioners can do:

The overriding theme of the ‘Playing and Exploring’ section is engagement. The best way for practitioners to assist children’s development in this area is to support them with getting involved in new activities, building their confidence to investigate their surroundings.

By playing with children, practitioners can encourage them to explore and demonstrate how they find things interesting and engaging. This shows children how it is a positive thing to express interests and explore, being curious about the world around them. By motivating them to inspect their environment, children will be open to new learning opportunities and make meaningful discoveries.

Photographer: Elisabeth Wales | Source: Unsplash

Practitioners should be enthusiastic in their interactions, using language alongside the children’s play. By consistently narrating and explaining aspects and ideas to the children, they will better understand what they come across while simultaneously building up their vocabulary. Adults should support children’s learning by guiding them rather than taking over and doing things for them, helping children increase their levels of independence. If children feel self-assured in their abilities they will be more confident explorers.

As language develops, children should be encouraged to ask questions. Their queries should be acknowledged by practitioners and an appropriate response always given. By having their questions answered in a constructive way, children will learn more about the world, their curiosity will evolve and they will feel heard and respected.

To inspire curiosity about events, practitioners should bring noteworthy events to the attention of the children. Starting small with occurrences within daily routines, gradually building up to recognising days, months, seasons and annual events. Varied annual and cultural events should be frequently celebrated in settings to deepen children’s knowledge of people and cultures, helping them develop respect and admiration of others.

Photographer: Sarah Elisabeth | Source: Unsplash

Children should be supported when learning about other people. Practitioners can do this by speaking courteously of others, being respectful towards children and other adults and demonstrating suitable interactions. Children will eagerly watch the behaviour of the adults around them and naturally follow suit. Talking about family structures and inviting respected people from the community (nurses, firefighters, police officers) into the setting gives children a visceral experience that will spark an interest in others.

The Environment

Stimulating resources should be provided, enticing the children to want to play with them. Resources should be rotated regularly so children are exposed to new items, rather than playing with the same ones all year long. However, resources should be available long enough for the children to thoroughly explore and learn how to use properly; rotating toys every term is a good recommendation.

Photographer: La-Rel Easter | Source: Unsplash

Resources should be at the children’s level, with consideration given to their age. For example, baby rooms should have items at floor-level whereas preschool rooms can have toys higher up, but still within their reach. Items should be freely accessible, with plenty of open-ended activities to choose from. These types of toys inspire creativity and imagination as children can think of innovative ways to interact with them. Mixing resources together for planned activities also encourages children to find new ways of exploring them.

Children’s interests should also be taken into account. They are more likely to engage with their surroundings if there are familiar items around them that they already enjoy. Communicating with families and asking about a child’s home life (e.g. what they play with at home) is the best way to find out children’s interests.