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Play-based learning, which encompasses free play and guided play, provides an excellent environment for fostering young children’s cognitive development.

Free play alone is not enough to promote academic learning. Indeed, guided play seems to be the main aspect of playful learning that is required to make academic learning possible. It is used to teach specific learning goals in an engaging manner. Children will still be in charge and therefore in control of their actions during play, but the educators or parents will take an active role of guidance by preparing the environment such as providing certain types of toys, collaborating with children by sensitively responding to their actions in a play session and by offering open-ended suggestions in order for children to reach precise learning targets.

With its combination of child independence and adult support, guided play has proven especially effective to support early learning of new content and skills in mathematics, reading and critical thinking among others.