Play based learning: what is it and why is it important?

I am so excited to (finally!) share with you my first educational play set. I'd like to briefly outline here what I mean by play-based learning, why it's important, and how I've sought to put together toys and materials that support play-based learning that is inclusive.

Play sets for educators

I am a huge proponent of inclusive learning because it benefits all children (both disabled kids and their typically developing peers). But inclusive educators and home schoolers are often left scrambling when trying to meet the diverse needs of the children they are educating.

In designing play sets for educators I wanted to give them access to resources and tools that would all be in one place. The Difference and Diversity play set not only includes toys and two stories but additional materials can be purchased consisting of:

  • 45 pages
  • two illustrated stories in pdf and epub format
  • two social stories (social narratives)
  • reading recommendations
  • craft ideas
  • core word prompts.

More stories, social narratives and craft ideas for this play set will be available in the future.

Play sets for parents and gift-givers

In addition, parents and gift givers are seeking educational toys for the kids in their lives that, as an added bonus, will become cherished, lifelong friends. The Spring play set gives them the option of purchasing the same toys and stories in the Difference and Diversity play set.

A slimmed down version of the supporting materials are also available for purchase for those looking for ideas and activities that support learning, particularly with the summer holidays coming up.

Young girl holding up crocheted butterfly and lavender plant 

What is play based learning?

Rather than learning things by rote and repetition, instruction, worksheets and testing, play-based learning sets up an environment in which children learn through self-discovery and interactions with their peers.

Free play is very important but "play based learning" doesn't imply simply throwing kids together in a room with toys and seeing who emerges victorious, like Survivor or Lord of the Flies.  Play based learning activities may be child-directed but they are also educator-supported and designed to elicit learning both academics and skills through experience. You can find examples of play based learning described here and here.

In my experience, it's particularly important for autistic and other neurodivergent children to be allowed to play and discover in ways that are meaningful and interesting for them. For one of my children, plush toys are crucially important in helping him understand a variety of concepts. My other son loves books, and reading and reenacting stories is a terrific way to get him engaged in playing with toys.

Why is play based learning important?

Play based learning is not just important, its crucial for development of:

Instructional "top down" approaches, especially when applied in the early childhood years can result in negative outcomes for both typically developing kids and autistic children.

Play set reviews are in!!

So, there you have an explanation for why I started putting these play sets together! As part of this process, it was important for me to obtain feedback from a variety of people when designing my first play set.

I reached out to educators, homeschoolers, therapists and autistic adults for their input. I'm particularly grateful to those who provided me with written feedback, including Carole Zangari, Kim Rankin, Michelle Swan, Amanda Lee, Mindy Douglas, Rachel Ottley, Raya Shields, Patrick Ashley and Shannon Henderson.

Here are some of their comments:

"the crocheted items were very sweet [and] would lend themselves to interacting about literacy with my son" Kim Rankin, homeschooler of child who is an AAC user and has complex medical needs.


"I could use these with my homeschooled children as a way of encouraging self reflection in social situations as well as a way of modelling a story telling technique for them to practice as part of their own writing development. I'd like to recommend these to teachers in schools as well" Michelle Swan, autistic adult, homeschooler, disability rights advocate.


"I think this playset offers a wonderful range of play based learning opportunities. I think it would work well in a classroom/play environment striving to include a diverse range of learners." Raya Shields, autistic grad student and mentor/support worker for disabled kids and teens.


"When children have questions about life skills, daily life and struggles, it's nice to have manipulatives to go with the discussion. As well, having a stuffy to go with a story makes it more alive for the students. Much more interactive." Shannon Henderson, Grade 7 educational assistant and support worker for disabled kids and teens


"The illustrations using the toys [in the additional materials] are beautiful. As a homeschooler, I love the [social narratives] and their tie ins to social studies. We are working on communication skills and particularly answering questions so [the comic strip conversation is great]. My daughter is struggling with reading. Incorporating the cute toys would give her something to draw her into the characters and story, as well as to hold onto while listening." Mindy Douglas, homeschooler and mother to daughter with developmental disabilities.


And last, but by no means least:

"these adorable, hand crafted toys are intentionally designed to support and encourage play based learning [and] they're so cute!!! The lavender plant that Ava is holding actually has lavender inside so it smells amazing! Deanne created two story books that go with this play set and I've read them to the kids so many times since we got these home, they can't get enough." Amanda Lee, mother of two and all round awesome, pink haired person!

Play based learning with SBKM Spring Play Set. Ava holding a crocheted butterfly and lavender plant


hope you will keep your eyes open for more of these play sets as they launch and if you decide to invest in one, or more, please do share your feedback and pictures (where possible). I love seeing children playing with my toys!

1 comment

  • Shannon

    I’m extremely happy to see these wonderful play based sets coming out for the public to use. I am looking forward to seeing children enjoy and learn from these sets in educational settings and home.
    Congrats to these accomplishments!
    Such great work. Cute as well. 🤗

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