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The benefits of adding more Discovery Play to your Program

When we hear the word discovery, we often think of outdoor play. However, the magic of discovery is that it can happen anywhere!

Written by: Early Educational Advisor - Jo Harris  

When we hear the word discovery, we often think of outdoor play. However, the magic of discovery is that it can happen anywhere! Whether inside or out, encouraging children to become curious and involved in their learning can support their confidence to ask questions and, perhaps most importantly, determine their answers.

Ideally, when it comes to discovery learning, educators may like to create specific zones or allow children to mix resources to engage in play. Watching, listening, and providing provocation for children will be the crucial role of adults as they interact collaboratively with young learners. 

Using these cues, educators will scaffold and help children shape their thinking and activities, providing insight into how they learn and are challenged best. This information can be integrated into both spontaneous and planned activities and experiences.

Following are five ways to nurture discovery play, and learning within your program. 

Discovery is an important learning outcome

Open-ended materials offer children the best opportunity to explore and extend their thinking. This can include everyday resources that already exist in the program and may mean considering how current resources could be used. Watching how children interact with materials, creates ideas as to what they want to know about them. 

Involving children in the discovery element of play can lead to working out their intended use through exploration and discussion. Encouraging children to share their ideas through conversation can support them to try out their ideas and theories, which will also develop their concentration and independent thinking skills.

Pairing small dolls with baskets and scarves can stimulate children’s thinking to make original and unique items such as custom blankets and furniture while developing their creativity and imagination. Watching the contents inside the liquid containers of Sensory Tubes can help children develop their prediction skills as they watch where it travel. Rolling a squishy or spiky ball over the skin can encourage children to express their preferences, likes, and dislikes as they explore their texture.

Discovery play leads to meaningful learning

It has been said that there is no substitute for personal experience when learning something new. Considering children’s development is integral to determining their preferred style of engagement to ensure it optimises their understanding and content retention.

Setting up a light projector in a block area with an image of a local map shone onto a wall could create a city skyline that invites interest in scale and perspective. Adding little people, animals, and cars may encourage children to create stories and scenarios for the characters.

This could lead to more interest and exploration of items that change shape or dimensions when cast with a shadow. Children may seek other resources in the environment to trial and test to learn more about how they are made and their functions, based on their curiosity.

Continuous learning means keeping questions in motion

It is common to take the view that when a question is answered, we move on to a new question. However, it is important to continue seeking more information to understand when focusing on discovery-based learning. This could mean asking a question with a different emphasis or angle, encouraging further investigation through play. 

Welcoming curiosity also invites children to adopt attributes such as perseverance and resilience as they learn more about the world around them and their place within it. Exploring water play is ideal for social engagement between children and resources as they fill, empty, pour, measure, estimate, and notice the amazing properties of water, sand, and more.

Taking things apart and putting them back together again

As adults, we often take it for granted that when we find the tool or implement we need to complete a task and simply return it when we are finished. For young children, the value of using a tool is often all about inner working mechanisms. An ideal learning activity for older children is to be able to take apart an old appliance to tinker with or to provide materials that are transparent to allow them to see inside. 

Examining materials like a Lotus Pod under a Magnifying Stand or an X-ray on a light panel can have a similar effect as children decide what it is they choose to focus on and for how long.  They can also determine what they hypothesise and why as they explore and discuss their findings.

Problem-Solving is a Major Part of Discovery Play 

Similar to the urge to explore, solving problems is an important step to becoming independent. When children are steadied with a guiding hand, rather than having things done for them without their input, the learning process becomes more meaningful.

Providing chalk pens to write a shopping list on and using the wipe-off board outside the role-play shop can enhance the play situation. It may be possible that more time and energy is spent on finding out how the markers work than the actual list, but the value for children is priceless and will give much-needed context for how and why written communication will become important in their future. 

Making choices in learning gives children the confidence to have personal autonomy in other important life decisions, and they see the importance of deep engagement with the world around them. 

Another important benefit is that children may take the next step to support their peers by teaching them through play and interaction and paying it forward, not because they have to, but because they want to. This is a pleasure that can provide deep satisfaction and pride that comes from being trusted to find it for oneself.

Experience Can be Our Greatest Teacher 

American Psychologist Jerome Bruner believed that children gained a greater understanding of learning by physically interacting with resources rather than being taught a theory about a concept. Simply explaining a response to answer a child’s question in no way has the same power as experiencing it. 

Children could explore counting from 1 to 10 by learning by rote, but when given resources such as Metallic Elephants to interact with allow learning through activity. To extend the activity, add a natural wood Counting Log or Crochet sorting set for children to sort, organise and categorise as they wish.

Our best memories and associated feelings of pride and success are often linked to finding a resolution to our problems or challenges.  This is the same for children navigating their way through their young lives by watching experienced adults handle things easily. Whether or not we are aware of it, they do what we do and not what we say. It is imperative then that learning through experience and practice is modelled positively, allowing children to practice and ask questions that will be handled with sensitivity and care.


For more ideas and information, please visit Bellbird's Educator Resources page.



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