Identify philosophical approaches which influence play provision

Qualification: NCFE CACHE Level 3 Diploma for the Early Years Educator
Unit: Unit 3.3: Apply theoretical perspectives and philosophical approaches to play
Learning outcome: Understand philosophical approaches which influence play provision
Assessment criteria: Identify philosophical approaches which influence play provision


Philosophical approaches which influence play provision are ideas and beliefs that aim to provide children with the best opportunities for growth, learning and development.

Friedrich Froebel

Friedrich Froebel was a 19th-century German educator who developed a form of play-based learning he called ‘kindergarten’ (translates as ‘child’s garden‘).


Froebel believed that imaginative play enhanced children’s cognitive and emotional development, allowing them to explore the world around them in an enjoyable, hands-on way. He emphasized the importance of unstructured play, believing it helped to foster individual creativity and self-expression. He also introduced the concept of “gifts” or educational materials such as blocks, balls and geometric shapes, which young children could use during their free playtime. By encouraging open-ended exploration through objects, music and nature study, Froebel showed that play could be a powerful tool for learning.

Friedrich Froebel believed that using rhyme was an effective way to promote language development in young children. He used simple rhymes to help children learn new words and phrases, as well as to express emotions or ideas. He also saw rhyme as a way of developing fine motor skills and creativity in young children, as they joined in singing games or created their own rhymes about the world around them. Through these activities, Froebel hoped to foster an appreciation for language and nurture early literacy skills.


Margaret & Rachel McMillan

Rachel and Margaret McMillan were heavily influenced by Froebel and devised an approach to child’s play that emphasized the importance of creative exploration through open-ended activities. They believed in allowing children the freedom to explore their environment, express themselves through play, and develop intellectual skills without direct instruction.

Their approach valued creativity, problem-solving, collaboration, and communication as essential components of learning and development. The McMillan sisters advocated for adults to take a supportive role in guiding children’s learning by providing materials and resources to explore, asking open-ended questions to stimulate thought, and engaging with children during playtime.


The McMillan Sisters’ believed that space and fresh air were important for children’s development. Their Open Air Nursery was an innovative early childhood education initiative focused on providing quality outdoor play experiences for underprivileged children. The nursery was founded in London in 1910 to provide fresh air, physical exercise, and educational opportunities to those living in overcrowded inner-city areas. At the time, it was believed that access to natural environments and outdoor activities could help improve children’s health and well-being.

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori’s approach to children’s play was based on her philosophy of education. She believed that children learn best through hands-on experiences and by having a self-directed learning environment in which they explore their own interests. To create this environment, Maria Montessori advocated for materials that were carefully designed to be developmentally appropriate for each stage of the child’s development. Her philosophy also encouraged adults to take a supportive role, providing guidance through observation rather than direct instruction. This allowed children to take ownership of their learning, experiment with new concepts, and develop a deep understanding of the material they encountered.


Maria Montessori’s concept of the ‘absorbent mind’ refers to the abilities of young children to absorb knowledge from their environment without conscious effort. This concept is based on the idea that during early childhood, a child is like a sponge, capable of extracting and retaining information through their senses in an effortless way. She believed this natural learning process should be nurtured to create an optimum learning environment for children. The Montessori approach uses carefully designed materials and activities to engage these natural tendencies, thus allowing children to gain knowledge and skills in a meaningful way.

Montessori also believed that children were more interested in practical everyday objects rather than toys and ensured that children had access to such items.


Susan Isaacs

Building on the works of Montessori and Froebel, Susan Isaacs developed many ideas (and wrote several papers) relating to the importance of children’s play in their learning and development.

Isaacs believed that play provides an opportunity for children to practice dealing with different emotions securely. Additionally, it enables them to explore their level of development, allowing them to make discoveries for themselves through active learning.


In group settings, cooperative play allows children to interact and learn how to manage social situations.

Rudolf Steiner

Steiner’s approach to child’s play is rooted in a belief that play should support the natural development of children.


This includes providing them with ample opportunity for independent and creative exploration, as well as materials that enable imaginative and imaginative thinking.

Additionally, Steiner emphasizes the importance of providing children with hands-on experience, such as playing in nature or participating in craft activities. The goal is to provide children with meaningful experiences that exist beyond toys, while also teaching lessons about responsibility, collaboration, and respect.


Steiner believed that learning to read and write could stifle younger children’s development and so did not encourage this type of academic learning until they were older.

Ultimately, the Steiner approach seeks to create a nurturing environment where each child’s unique qualities can be recognized and nurtured.


Tina Bruce

Tina Bruce’s approach to children’s play is based on the idea that play should be seen as an important part of a child’s learning and development.

Her theories emphasize the importance of providing children with a rich and varied play environment that includes both indoor and outdoor activities.


Additionally, she believes that all types of play should be valued equally, no matter how mundane or trivial it may appear at first glance. Bruce coined the term free-flow play. Free-flow play is a type of unstructured, unguided, and spontaneous form of play that allows children to be in control of their own play experience. This type of play often involves items such as arts and crafts, blocks or construction toys, dramatic role-play, and imaginative activities. Free-flow play encourages children to express themselves and explore materials in ways that are meaningful to them.

She also argues for promoting cooperative and collaborative play so children can learn to share their ideas, take turns, and respect others’ boundaries.


Bruce has also written about the twelve features of play:

1. Free flow play actively uses direct, first -hand experiences, which draw on the child’s powerful inner drive to struggle, manipulate materials, explore, discover and practise over and over again.

2. Play exerts no external pressure on children to conform to externally imposed rules, goals, tasks or a definite direction. In this it differs from games. But the externally set rules in games enable children to experiment with breaking, making and keeping rules in the safety of their free flowing play.

3. Play is an active process without an end product. When the play fades, so does its tangibility. It can never again be replayed in exactly the same way. It is of the moment and vanishes when the play episode ends. This aids flexibility of thought and the adaptability central to the intellectual life of the child.

4. Play is intrinsically motivated. It does not rely on external rewards. It is self-propelling. Children cannot be made to play. The circumstances and relationships need to be right for the child’s play to begin to flow.

5. Play is about possible, alternative, imagined worlds which involve ‘supposing’ and ‘as if’ situations. These lift participants from the literal and real to a more abstract and higher level of functioning. This involves being imaginative, creative, original and innovative. The symbolic life of the child uses life experiences in increasingly abstract ways.

6. Play is sustained, and when in full flow, helps children to function in advance of what they can actually do in their real lives. They can drive a car, perform a heart operation, be a shop keeper.

7. Play can be initiated by a child or an adult, but if by an adult he/she must pay particular attention that the adult’s play agenda is not the most important or only one. Free flowing play is more like a conversation with each listening to and tuning into the other.

8. Play can be solitary and gives children agency and a sense of control over their lives. It supports children in developing awareness and strength in their own ideas, feelings and relationships. It gives personal space for contemplation and well being because it gives strength to deal with life’s events.

9. Play might be in partnerships between children or between adult and child. Or it might be in a group with or without an adult participating. Adults need to be sensitive to children’s play ideas, feelings and relationships and not invade, overwhelm or extinguish the children’s possibilities for free flowing play. Freedom with guidance is a delicate balance.

10. Play is about wallowing in ideas, feelings and relationships and the prowess of the physical body. It helps the process of becoming aware of self in relation to others and the universe. It brings unity and interconnectedness.

11. During their free flowing play children use the technical prowess, mastery and competence they have developed to date. They are confident and in control. Play shows adults what children already know and have already learnt more than it introduces new learning.

12. Play is an integrating mechanism which brings together everything the child has been learning, knows and understands. It is rooted in real experience that it processes and explores. It is self healing in most situations and brings an intellectual life that is self aware, connected to others, community and the world beyond. Early childhood play becomes a powerful resource for life both in the present and the future.

Tina Bruce (2022) SOURCE:

Reggio Emilia

Reggio Emilia’s approach to play focuses on providing children with a safe and interactive environment where they can explore, create and express themselves.


This approach is based on the belief that children are capable, competent learners who should be viewed as active participants in the learning process. The Reggio Emilia approach encourages child-led learning where adults provide support and guidance when needed. It also emphasizes the importance of interaction between the child and their environment through exploration of materials, pretend play and collaboration among other children.

Additionally, it promotes respect for each child’s individual interests, giving them space to take risks and express themselves creatively. Ultimately, this approach seeks to give children the skills necessary to become empowered self-learners.


Emilia emphasized that parents and carers are collaborators in their child’s development and that their participation and involvement should be encouraged. Practitioners should also record each child’s progress, for example, by taking photographs or maintaining a learning journal.

Emmi Pikler

Emmi Pikler’s approach to play is based on the notion of child-led learning, with a focus on developing gross motor skills.


It emphasizes an environment that allows children to explore their world and develop skills at their own pace, without adult interference or expectation. This approach includes offering Play opportunities such as loose parts, physical activities, art materials and natural resources. It also suggests avoiding using resources that may restrict a child or encourage their passivity.

Additionally, it encourages adults to observe and join the play when invited but not lead or direct it. By allowing children to direct their own play experiences in this manner, they can develop skills related to independent problem-solving, creativity, concentration and social interactions.


Ultimately, through this approach, children build self-confidence and a greater understanding of how their environment works which set them up for success as they grow older.

The Curiosity Approach

The Curiosity Approach aims to ignite the curiosity a child has for the world around them.


It was developed by Stephanie Barrett and Lyndsey Heller and is underpinned by the ideas of Montessori, Steiner, Emilia and Pikler.

The Curiosity Approach to play is an innovative approach to early childhood education that focuses on creating learning environments that encourage curiosity, exploration, and discovery.


The aim of this approach is to create a truly dynamic and responsive learning environment that respects every child’s individual development and needs. This approach includes providing space for children to explore and take risks while being supported by adults. It also involves creating opportunities for self-expression through open-ended activities, role-playing games, storytelling, and imaginative play.

Additionally, it promotes a culture of inquiry where adults ask questions instead of giving answers and allows children to discover the answers together. These elements combine to create an environment that encourages active exploration, problem-solving, creativity and expression in young learners.


Settings that use the Curiosity Approach often use neutral colours (rather than bright colours) so as not to distract the children and emphasise the use of natural objects rather than toys. Children are encouraged to explore for themselves and are given ample time and freedom to do so.

Forest Schools

The Forest School approach to play is an educational method centred around providing children with a connection with nature and the outdoors that was ‘imported‘ to the UK from Scandinavian countries.


This approach emphasizes experiential learning in natural environments and encourages risk-taking and exploration outdoors.

It gives children the opportunity to explore, problem-solve, observe, collaborate, build skills and develop respect for the environment without adult interference or expectations. Additionally, this approach encourages self-reflection and critical thinking, as well as an appreciation for the beauty of natural spaces.

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