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PBEL - Play Based Experiential Learning

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Play Based Experiential Learning is supported by rich and diverse learning enivroniments where children can engage with materials hands-on and have opportunities to build upon their play.

At the heart of creating a Play- Based Experiential Learning classroom is ensuring that the learning environment is set up in such a way that children have access to a variety of materials in which they can interact and educators can use to extend learning opportunities.

A variety of resources exist on establishing a learning environment, some of which can be found in the resource section.

What should be in the environment?

Diverse learning environments should be laid out and stocked with resources that encourage play across a wide variety for interests, for instance music, blocks, dramatic, reading, writing, loose parts, gross-motor, and find- motor, small group and large group activities.

As you consider creating your learning environment thought should be given to how to utilize the full space available, taking in to account both indoor and outdoor areas. Often the same materials and activities completed within the classroom can be brought outdoors with a little planning.

In addition outdoor settings provide children with a means to connect with nature and engage with readily available loose parts; such as stones, tree cookies, sand, and more.

Bringing Your Learning Environment Alive

Just as important as taking time to create a supportive and diverse learning environment is to having a successful Play Based Experiential Learning classroom; giving thought to how children will be given opportunities to use materials is also a key consideration. For example:

  • Are they easily accessible and within reach of children, or are they placed on a high shelf or in a cabinet out of sight?
  • Are children given the opportunity to bring materials from one section of the classroom to another or they need to ask permission to do so first?
  • What have the children expressed interest in, and do you have enough space or materials to accommodate their interest?
  • Do the materials and access provided support your learning objectives?


The questions posed here are a short list of considerations and should be viewed as a starting point in determining the needs of your individual learning environment.


Concerns about the cost to create a rich play based learning environment can mitigated by taking stock of the materials readily available.

  • Does your classroom space have a block or dramatic play area?
  • Do you have access to green space at your location?
  • What additional materials can be added to bring that space to life?


Children tend to enjoy playing with loose parts that they can easily incorporate into their activities. Fabric scraps can be used for a range of activities from dress up to serving as a pulley. Tree cookies can be obtained typically for free from the Department of Natural Resources and used both in and outside of the classroom.

Additionally it is worth observing and taking note of what themes or topics your children are most interested in. You can then choose to invest in open ended materials that can be used to build upon their interests. Families and other community members can also be asked to contribute resources to the classroom.

Reflections From the Field

Connecting children with nature has a myriad of benefits - children who spend time in nature are more creative, less stressed, better able to concentrate, physically more active … and the list goes on. Over years of designing and supporting Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms, we have seen many sites with thriving outdoor classrooms. That prompted us to ask a number of questions: How do you keep people excited about utilizing and maintaining these nature-based learning spaces? How can these spaces be more sustainable? Can we identify characteristics that the thriving outdoor classrooms have in common? Results showed the positive impacts when the connections between the child, supportive adults, and the environment are woven together. Once the research was analyzed, six indicators emerged as key characteristics of thriving, growing, and sustainable outdoor classrooms. Integrate Missions - Integrate nature and outdoor discovery play into the philosophy, program goals, and mission of the organization. When the outdoor classroom is seen as an integral program component and when... Read More