Embracing Learning Through Play The Journey of Golden Sands School

Embracing Learning Through Play: The Journey of Golden Sands School

Longworth Education has embarked on a journey to show of Play Pedagogy from Aotearoa New Zealand on the world stage. Play Pedagogy is a way of integrating children’s play experiences with curricular learning, giving akonga (students) the flexibility to find their own solutions to both new and existing problems.

School Snapshot

School Information
  • Location: Papamoa, Bay of Plenty
  • Current School Roll: 530
  • Urban Primary Kura/School (Years 0-6)   

Physical Environment

Newer build/renovation and have primarily modern-learning classroom environments


We were a decile 9 school under the old system. Many of our families have both parents working. We are 18% Māori and 61% New Zealand European. We also have 2% Pasifika and 5% Indian.. Our Equity Index is 428. 

Golden Sands School embarked on a transformative journey in 2020, fueled by a desire to provide developmentally appropriate and engaging education for its 5- and 6-year-old students. With the introduction of play-based learning and a rich, authentic curriculum, the school set out to create a nurturing environment that fosters exploration and empowers students. Over time, the impact of these practices became evident, leading to improved learning outcomes and holistic development. Join us as we delve into the experiences and successes of Golden Sands School on their path of embracing learning through play.

A Shift Towards Play Pedagogy

Golden Sands School adopted learning through play as part of its strategic plan in 2021, envisioning a curriculum that embraces the philosophy of play in years 0-2. Inspired by the positive results observed in the junior school, the year 3-6 teams eagerly joined in, seeking professional development opportunities to integrate play into their classrooms. This process involved training staff members and implementing practice-based coaching to ensure the effective implementation of play across the entire school community.

Embracing Learning Through Play: The Journey of Golden Sands School

Impact on Students’ Learning Outcomes

Teachers at Golden Sands School have noticed a multitude of positive impacts on their students’ learning outcomes as a result of play-based approaches. Students are actively engaged in directing their own learning, becoming confident “learning through players” who embrace exploration and taking risks. The introduction of play has also enhanced student engagement during instructional lessons, leading to improved focus and participation. Moreover, creativity has flourished, as students are given the freedom and space to explore their interests, resulting in a comprehensive understanding of the New Zealand curriculum. Play-based learning has also nurtured essential social skills, promoting collaboration and problem-solving among students. Notably, previously marginalized students have experienced inclusion and recognition, fostering a sense of community and motivation to sustain their learning journey.

Transforming Teachers’ Practices:

Golden Sands School has witnessed significant changes in teachers’ practices as they embraced play-based learning. Teachers have gained a deeper understanding of the New Zealand curriculum by recognizing its elements within children’s play and documenting learning stories. This strengths-based approach has allowed teachers to identify and appreciate the knowledge and skills each student brings to their learning. With increased confidence and a clear sense of purpose, teachers have become more invested in their profession, appreciating the value and impact of their work. They have developed personalized approaches to extend children’s learning based on their interests, fostering creativity and innovation. Collaboratively, teachers have been tailoring play invitations, sharing progress, and providing feedback, leading to consistent growth and a sense of community among both students and staff.

Overcoming Challenges

Implementing a play-based approach has come with its challenges. It required a shift in understanding how children learn, necessitating teachers to take a leap of faith and be brave in their pedagogical practices. Time management was crucial in balancing play and instructional teaching time, while resourcing was overcome by leveraging donations from the community. Storage space had to accommodate ongoing projects, accepting a “tidy mess” to support children in revisiting and developing their constructions. Building trust among teachers and students was essential for allowing outdoor play while instructional teaching took place.

Achieving a Balanced Pedagogy

Contrary to the misconception that play-based learning opposes the teaching of literacy and numeracy, Golden Sands School has successfully integrated these elements into their play pedagogy. By following a learning-through-play philosophy, the school covers most areas of the curriculum, allowing intentional teaching of literacy and numeracy alongside student-driven play. Teachers leverage observations from play to inform their planning, crafting contexts and problems based on children’s interests. By highlighting the literacy and numeracy aspects within play, they effectively communicate to parents how play supports their child’s development in these domains.

Embracing Learning Through Play: The Journey of Golden Sands School

Addressing Concerns and Ensuring Progress

Golden Sands School regularly analyzes student data to track progress and identify areas of concern. By engaging in team discussions and sharing feedback with the Board of Trustees, the school ensures that positive initiatives are in place to support students’ learning journey. Teachers closely monitor students who are below or well below curriculum levels, devising Wave 2 plans to address their needs and ensure ongoing progress. Collaboration with the SENCO (Special Education Needs Coordinator) allows for additional support, such as technological aids, if necessary.

Looking Ahead

Golden Sands School continues to expand its pedagogical approach in the coming years. With a goal to develop reporting linked to the play philosophy by the end of 2023, the school is embracing learning stories as a primary means of communicating student learning to parents. The use of learning community expos and Three Way Conferences further strengthens the connection between students, teachers, and parents. Additionally, the school remains committed to sustaining the implementation of learning through play by utilizing the P-BLOT (Play-Based Learning Observation Tool) and focusing on inclusive practices. By promoting an environment that encourages exploration, creativity, and inclusivity, Golden Sands School strives to create a future where learning is both joyful and transformative.