This resource is part of a series of 8 practice resources for play-based learning and intentionality in ECEC. Each resource is aligned with the Principles of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF V2.0).

About this resource

Before using any of the 8 'Play-based learning and intentionality' resources, read the following introduction to understand the importance of intentionality in play-based learning in quality, evidence-based ECEC practice with cultural responsiveness at its heart. 

The Play-based learning and intentionality practice resources identify evidence‑based practices aligned with the 8 Principles of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF V2.0). These resources can stand alone, or can be used with:

These practice resources align to the National Quality Standard (NQS), particularly in Quality Areas 1 (Educational programs and practices), 5 (Relationships with children) and 6 (Collaborative partnerships with families and communities).

Play-based learning and intentionality

Play-based learning and intentionality is one of the Practices identified in the EYLF V2.0. It also addresses elements of the NQS, including elements 1.2.1 (Intentional teaching) and 1.2.2 (Responsive teaching and learning).

The EYLF V2.0 (p. 8) notes that:

Play-based learning capitalises on children’s natural inclination to be curious, explore and learn. Children actively construct their own understandings that contribute to their own learning. In play experiences children integrate their emotions, thinking and motivation that assists to strengthen brain functioning. They exercise their agency, intentionality, capacity to initiate and lead learning, and their right to participate in decisions that affect them, including about their learning.

Intentionality in play-based learning involves participating thoughtfully and purposefully in play in a way that extends each child’s thinking and learning. It involves balancing 3 key ideas:

  • Play is child-led and driven by their ideas, interests, abilities and curiosity. Play is an important way for young children to build new understandings and make sense of their worlds and is the foundation for quality ECEC that fosters children’s learning, development and wellbeing.
  • Intentionality involves thoughtful guidance by teachers and educators to extend each child’s learning, development and wellbeing during play while also fostering their agency and independence. It means tuning in and responding to children’s ideas and interests to support ongoing learning and development in a way that is meaningful to them. This involves viewing children as active participants and decision-makers and requires teachers and educators to understand, respect and work with each child’s unique qualities and capabilities.
  • Children bring their own intentions to play by actively deciding who they will play with, what resources they will use and how the play will unfold. This also includes testing out ideas and challenging each other’s thinking.

Teachers and educators can act with intentionality during child-led play, as well as in everyday events and routines. This involves being purposeful across all aspects of the curriculum, including planned and unplanned experiences, routines, interactions, and elements of the learning environment such as the room setup and resources. This commitment to intentionality should be reflected in the service’s philosophy.

Cultural responsiveness

Cultural responsiveness is at the heart of play-based learning and intentionality. This requires teachers and educators to be critically reflexive about their own identities, culture, histories and biases. They can then consider how this impacts the development of relationships with, and understanding of, the children and families at their service and within the communities in which they live and work. It is this capability that helps to create welcoming and culturally safe environments.

Critical reflection supports this process and includes in-depth thinking about practice and its impact. It involves teachers and educators becoming more aware of their strengths and preferences, as well as areas where they can further build their knowledge, skills and confidence. Reflexivity further extends on critical reflection to promote and foster culturally responsive practice.

Reflexive practice invites teachers and educators to engage deeply and honestly in conversations with themselves and others. This process provides opportunities to examine and unpack personal beliefs, attitudes, biases and ways of thinking with a view to engaging with people in a culturally safe manner. This understanding is deeply connected to knowing (the knowledge we hold and our understanding of how we gained this knowledge), being (our self-knowledge and practices) and doing (the actions that we put into place).

These practice resources identify strategies you can use to improve your intentionality in play-based learning and align it with the EYLF V2.0 Principles. In this way, these resources support practices that are both culturally responsive and informed by relevant research.

There are 8 practice resources in the Play-based learning and intentionality series:

  • Secure, respectful and reciprocal relationships
  • Partnerships
  • Respect for diversity
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives
  • Equity, inclusion and high expectations
  • Sustainability
  • Critical reflection and ongoing professional learning
  • Collaborative leadership and teamwork.

Arthur, L., Beecher, B., Death, E., Dockett, S., & Farmer, S. (2018). Programming and planning in early childhood setting (7th ed.). Cengage.

Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority. (2018). QA5 relationships with children. https://www.acecqa.gov.au/nqf/national-quality-standard/quality-area-5-relationships-with-children

Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority. (2020). Guide to the National Quality Framework. https://www.acecqa.gov.au/nqf/about/guide

Australian Government Department of Education. (2022). Belonging, being and becoming: The early years learning framework for Australia V2.0. https://www.acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2023-01/EYLF-2022-V2.0.pdf

Barblett, L. (2016, September 1). Why play-based learning? The Spoke. https://thespoke.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/play-based-learning/

Barnes, S. (2012). Making sense of ‘intentional teaching’. Children's Services Central.

Bruno, A., Galuppo, L., & Gilardi, S. (2011). Evaluating the reflexive practices in learning experiences. European Journal of Psychology Education, 26(4), 527–543. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-011-0061-x

Chigeza, P., & Sorin, R. (2016). Kindergarten children demonstrating numeracy concepts through drawing and explanations: Intentional teaching within play-based learning. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 41(5), 65–77. https://ro.ecu.edu.au/ajte/vol41/iss5/5/

Child Australia. (2017). What is pedagogy: How does it influence our practice? https://www.childaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/CA-Statement-Pedagogy.pdf

Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. (2021). Keeping our kids safe: Cultural safety and the national principles for child safe organisations. https://www.childsafety.gov.au/resources/keeping-our-kids-safe-cultural-safety-and-national-principles-child-safe-organisations-guide-0

Dawson, J., Laccos-Barrett, K., Hammon, C., & Rumbold, A. (2022). Reflexive practice as an approach to improve healthcare delivery for Indigenous people: A systematic critical synthesis and exploration of the cultural safety education literature. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(11), 6691. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19116691

Department of Employment Education and Workplace Relations. (2009). Belonging, being and becoming: The early years learning framework for Australia. https://www.acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2018-02/belonging_being_and_becoming_the_early_years_learning_framework_for_australia.pdf

Edwards, S., & Nuttall, J. (2009). Introduction. In S. Edwards & J. Nuttall (Eds.), Professional learnings in early childhood settings (pp. 1–8). Sense Publishers. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789087907501_002

Engdahl, I. (2015). Early childhood education for sustainability: The OEMP World Project. International Journal of Early Childhood, 47, 347–366. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13158-015-0149-6

Elliot, S., & Davis, J. (2009). Exploring the resistance: An Australian perspective in education for sustainability in early childhood. International Journal of Early Childhood, 41(2), 65–76. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03168879

Epstein, A. (2014). The intentional teacher: Choosing the best strategies for young children’s learning. The National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Gray, P. (2015). Studying play without calling it that: Humanistic positive psychology. In J. Johnson, T. Eberne, T. Henricks & D. Kuschner (Eds.), The handbook of the study of play (pp. 121–138). Rowan and Littlefield.

Harrison, L., Hadley, F., Irvine, S., Davis, B., Barblett, L., Hatzigianni, M., Mulhearn, G., Waniganayake, M., Andrews, R., & Li, P. (2020). Quality improvement research project. Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority. https://www.acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-05/quality-improvement-research-project-2019.PDF

Hedelfalk, M., Almqvist, J., & Östman, L. (2013). Education for sustainable development in early childhood education: A review of the research literature. Environmental Education Research, 21(7), 975–990. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504622.2014.971716

Huizinga, J. (1994). Homo ludens: A study of the play elements in culture. Routledge.

Indigenous Allied Health Australia (2019). Cultural responsiveness in active framework. https://iaha.com.au/workforce-support/training-and-development/cultural-responsiveness-in-action-training/

Irving-Lee, R. (2022, February 4). But that’s not fair… helping children to understand the difference between fairness and equality. Amplify! Blog. https://www.cela.org.au/publications/amplify!-blog/feb-2022/how-we-can-help-children-understand-fairness

Johansson, E. (2009). The preschool child of today – The world-citizen of tomorrow? International Journal of Early Childhood 41(2), 79–95. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03168880

Johnston, K. (2019). Digital technology as a tool to support children and educators as co-learners. Global Studies of Childhood, 9(4), 274–361. https://doi.org/10.1177/2043610619871571

Kennedy, A. (2018, July 10). Reflective practice: Making a commitment to ongoing learning. The Spoke. https://thespoke.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/reflective-practice-making-commitment-ongoing-learning/

Klette, T., Britt Drugli, M., & Aandahl, A. (2018). Together and alone: A study of interactions between toddlers and childcare providers during mealtimes in Norwegian childcare centres. Early Childhood Development and Care, 188(3), 387–398. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004430.2016.1220943

Laurin, D. (2018). One diaper at a time: Re-envisioning diapering routines with infants and toddlers. Zero to Three, 39(2), 11–20. https://www.zerotothree.org/resource/one-diaper-at-a-time-re-envisioning-diapering-routines-with-infants-and-toddlers/

Leggett, N., & Ford, M. (2013). A fine balance: Understanding the roles educators and children play as intentional teachers and intentional learners within the Early Years Learning Framework. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 38(4), 42–50. https://doi.org/10.1177/183693911303800406

Lewis, R., Fleer, M. & Hammer, M. (2019). Intentional teaching: Can early childhood educators create the conditions for children’s conceptual development when following a child-centred programme? Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 44(1), 6–18. https://doi.org/10.1177/1836939119841470

MacNaughton, G., & Williams, G. (2009). Techniques for teaching young children: Choices for theory and practice (3rd ed.). Pearson.

Marinovich, A. (2022, February 28). Why pausing works: An early communication tool. Learn With Less. https://learnwithless.com/podcast/the-power-of-the-pause/

Murphy, C., Matthews, J., Clayton, O., & Cann, W. (2020). Partnership with families in early childhood education: Exploratory study. Australasian Journal of Early childhood, 46(1), 93–106. https://doi.org/10.1177/1836939120979067

National Indigenous Australians Agency. (2021). National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early childhood strategy. https://www.niaa.gov.au/resource-centre/indigenous-affairs/national-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-early-childhood-strategy

Neilsen-Hewett, C., Siraj, I., Howard, S., Grimmond, J., & Fitzgerald, C. (2018). Case studies of effective practice: Evidence from the Fostering Effective Early Learning (FEEL) Study. https://education.nsw.gov.au/content/dam/main-education/early-childhood-education/whats-happening-in-the-early-childhood-education-sector/media/documents/Case-Studies-of-Effective-Practice-FEEL-Study_PDF.pdf

NSW Government. (2021). Embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives through program and practice. https://education.nsw.gov.au/early-childhood-education/leadership/news/embedding-aboriginal-perspectives

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2022). Young peoples’ environmental sustainability competence: Emotional, cognitive, behavioural and attitudinal dimensions in EU and OECD countries. https://www.oecd.org/publications/young-people-s-environmental-sustainability-competence-1097a78c-en.htm

Rogoff, B. (1995). Observing sociocultural activity on three planes: Participatory appropriation, guided participation and apprenticeship. In J. V. Wertsch (Ed.), Sociocultural studies of mind (pp. 139–164). Cambridge University Press.

Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care. (2019). Unpacking critical reflection: A dilly bag of tools for team leaders. https://education.nsw.gov.au/content/dam/main-education/en/home/early-childhood-education/operating-an-early-childhood-education-service0/Unpacking-Critical-Reflection.PDF

Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care. (2015). Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) fact sheets. https://www.snaicc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/02896.pdf

Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care. (n.d.). Promoting, exploring and celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures: EYLF Outcome 1 – Children have a strong sense of identity. https://www.acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-12/Outcome1-ChildrenHaveAStrongSenseOfIdentity-SNAICC.pdf

Vilayadevar, S., Thornton, K., & Cherrington, S. (2019). Professional learning communities: Enhancing collaborative leadership in Singapore early childhood settings. Contemporary Issues in Early childhood, 20(1). https://doi.org/10.1177/1463949119833578

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University Press.

Waters, C. (2019, October 1). Learn more about learning progressions. ACER Discover. https://www.acer.org/au/discover/article/learn-more-about-learning-progressions

Yogman, M., Garner, A., Hutchinson, J., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M., Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, & Council on Communications and Media. (2018). The power of play: A pediatric role in enhancing development in young children, Pediatrics, 142(3), Article e20182058. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2018-2058


Keywords: early childhood education and care, evidence-based education