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Let Them Play! The Importance of Fun at School

Be it an American, British, German or any other curriculum, the learning of communication and language; personal, social and emotional development; literacy; maths; understanding the world; and expressive arts all revolve around playful exploration. Lucky for us, Bangkok has an excellent choice of early years schools using and adapting different styles of curriculum allowing kids to learn through a playful fun experience.

“We work on fully child-centric basis and regard free play as a core pillar of development,” says Jena Matson, a head teacher at Sprouts, a childcare and learning centre based on the original German Kindergarten model. “Instead of guiding your child within a closed framework, we encourage children to develop individually at their own pace. We believe that this leads to greater independence, growth of an intrinsic interest to learn, and a more positive self-image.”

“We know that every child in our care has different interests and curiosities that go beyond the classroom and into the wider world,” adds Hannah Hart, Head of Early Years, St. Andrews International School, Sathorn. “Our role as facilitators of play is to nurture these, encouraging children to uncover new possibilities, perhaps for the very first time. However, finding these possibilities is not an easy task. It requires the ability to make links, find new ways to do things and to be independent in decision-making, and this is hard work. Open-ended play is integral to fostering these important characteristics for lifelong learning, as long as we give plenty of time, space and purpose to let the play unfurl and for imaginations to flourish.” 

The options of hands-on learning in the early years are prevalent. More specialised curriculums that focus on learning through play, which are available in Bangkok, include:


Teacher with a group of preschool children in a nursery. The children are sitting on the floor and listening teacher. Learning letters. In the background we can see a shelf with some, toys, black board and books. View from behind.

Montessori is a method of education that is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play. The classrooms are open environments where children are free to pursue a range of activities and make their own creative choices with teachers to guide the process.

“In a Montessori environment, children are offered a variety of didactic materials and activities that engage the whole child – mind and body.  When children have the freedom to choose activities they are interested in and use their entire bodies in the learning process, they become focused, develop concentration along with specific skills,” explains Serene Jiratanan, School Director & Principal, Montessori Academy Bangkok International School (MABIS). These early skills lead to reading, writing, advanced mathematics, problem solving, geography, science and cultural studies. Visual arts, music and movement are interwoven throughout the days’ activities. Teachers play the roles of guide, demonstrating the use of learning materials, and observer, acting as a link between the children, suitable materials and their immediate surroundings.

Reggio Emelia

happy funny child girl draws laughing shows hands dirty with paint

Children and teachers are viewed as capable, resourceful researchers, interested in inquiring seriously into the world around them. The belief is that children learn more when they are guided and supported rather than when they are instructed. The program is based on the principals of respect, responsibility and community through exploration.

Such thoughtful engagement includes working through theories, thoughts, feelings and values in multiple modes of representation, such as drawing, dance, wire, clay, music, painting, light and shadow, design and building, and more. It includes teachers inquiring into children’s thinking and understanding, they invite children to revisit documentation, and study documentation in-order to propel the curriculum further.

Forest Schooling

Children in forest looking at leaves as a researcher together with the magnifying glass.

Forest schooling is an outdoor education model in which students visit natural spaces to learn personal, social, technical skills and how to manage risks in an outdoor setting. The core of the program reflects an inspirational process that offers all learners regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment with trees. Forest schools seek to encourage, motivate, engage and inspire children in a nature filled environment. 

“Growing research has been showing the importance of play outside the classroom; in a purposeful and challenging environment, this provides essential learning opportunities for children,” explains Parityada Punthapong, Co-founder and Director of Outdoor School Bangkok. “Parents or caregivers can deny children the opportunity for learning and development in outdoor play, replacing it with the fear of what might go wrong. For some children this can create risks itself, with children making the wrong decisions as a result of insufficient experience of managing risk.”

Some of the activities offered at Bangkok Forest include natural and open-ended resources, sensory play, den building, pond dipping, bug hunting as well as a variety of art and craft activities, singing and story time.

Let them Play!

Two preschool girls are working together to build using magnetic tiles.

The academic essence of such learning takes a back seat to the broader gains. By engaging in an activity of their choice, the child enables the opportunity to understand and determine what happens next and why, be that problem solving, investigating, aiding other children, or using their imagination.

“The best learning comes from when children are given the time, space and freedom to initiate and develop their own play. As Early Years teachers it is our job to facilitate and provide opportunities and resources; however, the children themselves are the ones who are able to extend their play in ways that we as adults couldn’t even plan for or imagine,” says Kate Shaffer, Head of Early Years, St. Andrews International School, Sukhumvit 107. “Child-led play lays rich foundations for all areas of children’s development, including their social interactions, language and communication development, creativity, and problem solving. Play really is the basis for everything. Play is learning.”

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