5 tips to successfully engage your child in play-based learning
Jacinth Liew, mother of two
5 minutes
Jacinth Liew, mother of two

Cover photo taken in collaboration with Matthias Chong, featuring one of our ParentWise families

We all know the importance of playing and learning in early childhood education.

Research has also shown that there are plenty of benefits when children play.

Through play, children pick up several developmental skills, such as communication, social skills, cognitive, critical thinking and motor skills. Creative thinking is fostered while children play.

“Scientists have recently determined that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain – unless it is done with play, in which case, it takes between 10 and 20 repetitions!"

Cognitive Development
Promoting Exploration & Discovery
Core Finding: CD-EXP-C03

In very young children, cognitive development takes place through play. Creating a safe environment for the child to explore and discover through movement and free play helps promote cognitive development for the later years. Toys and object manipulation are helpful for exploration and discovery. Talking to the child also impacts the cognitive development as the child explores and discovers.

Play is the essential “work of children”.

It is a mechanism by which children learn – how they experience their world, practice new skills, and internalise new ideas. Through play, children learn about the world and engage in activities that encourage their cognitive, emotional, and social development.

Elkind, 2007

Despite being aware of the benefits of play-based learning, it can be quite challenging when you try to engage your kids in play-based learning. Many parents experience lots of frustrations:

“My child refuses to try the activities that I prepared.”

“How to get my preschooler to focus?”

“How to increase the attention span of my three-year-old?”

“My child is not interested and unmotivated in learning.”

“How do I engage my toddler in play-based learning?”

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be a certified teacher to teach your children. You don’t need a play-based curriculum all lined up before you can engage your children in play-based learning!

So how can you successfully engage your child in play-based learning?

Here’s my answer: Know your Child.

Read the 5 tips below to find out more.

1. Satisfy their basic needs and fill up their emotional tank.

Your child cannot be engaged and learn if they are feeling hungry, tired or uncomfortable. They also will not be actively involved if they don't feel loved or that they belong.

Before conducting the activities, make sure that your child is well-rested and well-fed. You might want to first spend some quality time by reading a book or talking about their day. This is especially important when your child hasn’t seen you for the whole day! Make them feel loved before attempting to get any learning done.

2. Focus on your child: curate activities based on their interests.

My girl was suddenly keen on caterpillars, so she willingly completed an activity that required her to create a "caterpillar" with dot stickers while learning mathematics and letters of the alphabet! If I had drawn them in simple square boxes, I don’t think she could even last 10 seconds!

A dear friend shared that her girl could only last three seconds with dot stickers. My solution: create a different context based on her girl’s interest!

Photo courtesy of Our Little Playnest.

3. Focus on your child: curate activities based on their learning styles

Is your child an auditory, kinesthetic or visual learner?

If they enjoy music, they likely need some songs to go along with the activities. For example, you can sing “Wheels on the bus” while they are trying to match wheels of the same colours.

Visual learners enjoy charts and diagrams, so you might like to draw along as they play. Think about book-based activities that draw reference to pictures and images in the books.

Most children are kinesthetic learners, so do incorporate some movement in their play activities! For example, I make the kids run around the house and search for post-its as they learn new Chinese characters.

Other than gross motor movement, you can also get them to learn to spell by searching for letters in a sensory bin!

4. Know your child's temperament

Temperament refers to your child’s inborn personality. Every child is different, so there is no need to compare your child to another kid!

Think about the temperament of your child: Are they highly active? You might want to reduce the duration of "seat-work", or the time they have to be seated for an activity.

Are they highly distractible? You might want to take away the other play items when you are trying to engage them in a specific activity.

Do they have trouble finishing tasks? You might want to keep each play activity short and simple.

Photo taken in collaboration with Larry Toh, featuring one of our ParentWise families.

5. Level of difficulty

It is important that the play activities you prepare are not so simple such that your kids find them boring. They cannot be too challenging either or your kids may not even try them.

My girl can match colours, so I introduced patterns to her instead. My son knows his skip counting by 2s and 5s very well, so I included skip counting by 3s to challenge him a little.


I know of Mummies who feel upset that their children cannot sit down and complete a piece of activity. I also receive many questions about tips on getting the child to focus. Remember that every child is unique – what works for one kid may not work for another!

My solution is to focus on your child. Be mindful of their interests, learning styles and temperament – that’s how you can curate a suitable play activity for them to enjoy and learn!

This article was originally published on Jacinth's blog, Our Little Playnest, and is republished with permission.

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