The role of play in our Turtle Tots lessons

10 January 2018

Play is essential for children’s learning – in fact the very deepest learning (autonomous learning) happens within play. Play is not a frivolous luxury, it is an absolute necessity.

At Turtle Tots we are passionate about the importance of free play in our programme.

Finding time within the structure of our classes for children and their carers to relax and play together, with no expected outcome, helps to promote bonding and builds and preserves the relationship of trust and respect on which all future learning is based.

Turtle Tots teachers are trained observers of baby and child behaviour, and will often spot the signs that children are showing us that they are ready to progress with a skill or activity during periods of free play.

Free play offers babies and children the opportunity to lead activities and have adults follow their lead, which brings them the utmost delight!

Water offers a unique environment in which to facilitate play and gives adults the opportunity to view each child’s own unique personality as they engage with their world in a way that they choose. Water also brings out the playful side of adults! Adults may struggle to let go of stresses and responsibilities in everyday life, but in the water something magical happens and we can be fully present, in the moment, engaged in play with our child and rediscovering the joy of play ourselves.


In free play there is no pressure on either child or adult to do anything in a certain way -  they can both relax and enjoy each other.

Learning happens best when children are relaxed, happy and curious – all the things promoted by free play!

Turtle Tots lessons have a defined structure and all Turtle Tots teachers follow a progressive programme of learning, but we recognize that every child is an individual and will progress at a pace that is right for them.


We encourage adults to adopt a playful approach to all structured activities, if a child is not enjoying something then we adapt the activity, or stop doing it and do something else that they enjoy instead.

Once an activity is not fun for a child then learning is inhibited and there is very little benefit in doing it. Some adults may feel as though they must get their baby or child to do what the teacher is telling them, even though their child doesn’t want to, in order for them to learn.

In fact our experience (and decades of research) tells us the opposite – by listening to children and allowing them to choose their level of engagement we see faster progression in their swimming over the long term. Play gives us the very best opportunity to listen to our children – so come to Turtle Tots and let’s play!

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