About play-based learning: Further Discussion with Dr Stef Esterhuizen

Name of Scholar / Expert:

Dr Stef Esterhuizen

Who is Dr Stef Esterhuizen? 

I am a Senior Lecturer at the North-West University, where I act as Programme Leader of the Foundation Phase / Early Childhood Development and Education.

I had 20 years teaching experience before commencing my career at the NWU in 2005. I lecture undergraduate students and am study leader for post-graduate students. I participate in several national and international conferences and published chapters in various books. I consider myself as a life-long learner and attend and complete various workshops and courses, among others, Thinking Maps (David Hyerle), Habits of Mind (James Anderson), Six Bricks (Bent Hutcheson, Care for Education), Innovative teaching strategies (ADS), Theories of Potential (Prof Deborah Eyre), etc.

I was involved in research projects such as Schools as Thinking Communities (Prof Mary Grosser) and High Performance Learning (Prof Mary Grosser and Prof Mirna Nel). Currently I am involved in the Bafenyi Project: Early Childhood Care and Education: the holistic development of young children (Prof Mariette Koen), where play-based learning is one of the focus points.

I intensely believe that all children can achieve their maximum potential through apposite instruction that enhances cognitive and critical thinking skills. My research interest is the improvement of teaching and learning practices of prospective teachers and care-givers to enhance cognitive development in children from birth to 9 years. I strongly believe that this could be attained by learning through play from a very young age.

Click here to read the first part of our discussion with Dr Stef Esterhuizen.


What about Technology?

We are living in a digital time where cell phones, iPads and computer games are popular ways to spend time. Unfortunately parents have to be mindful about the use of screen time for their children, because of the negative influence on the social, physical and cognitive development of the young child.

Figure 8 summarises some of the negative aspects in the development of the young child.

Figure 8: Negative impact of technological devices on the holistic development of the child

Research indicates that children from birth to 2 years of age should not be exposed to screen time at all, children 2 – 5 years should have limited screen time of less than 1 hour per day.  Avoid screens for at least 1 hour before bedtime, due to the potential melatonin-suppressing effects on adults, as well as children. Some recommendations are given in Figure 9.

Figure 9: Recommendations for screen time

(WP Wahl, 2019)


Visit our Tools and Research and Other Articles pages for Dr Esterhuizen’s recommended and applicable literature sources on Play-based learning. The figures used above are also available there. 


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Interview with Prof Mary Grosser, Extraordinary Professor in Cognitive Development and Critical Thinking Development

The Institute for the Advancement of Cognitive Education conducted an interview with Prof Mary Grosser; Extraordinary Professor in Cognitive Development and Critical Thinking Development at the North West University in South Africa in April 2019.  She also serves on the IACE Advisory Board. 

Prof Grosser’s interview is helpful to create a better understanding of the term cognitive education, and what the difference is between cognition and meta-cognition, and between lower-order thinking and higher-order thinking.  Understanding these basic concepts will help parents, teachers and practitioners to develop better thinking and learning.  This blog is a summary of the most important points Prof Grosser highlighted during the interview.

What does cognitive education mean?

  • Developing thinking processes (cognitive and metacognitive) in learners to help them to become independent and self-regulated learners in terms of their school work, but also to enable them to be better equipped to solve problems and make good decisions as part of daily life.
  • Teach learners to understand how their minds work.

What are the thinking competencies learners need to acquire?

  1. Lower-order: Lower-order competencies include having skills to effectively:
    – Pay attention to information: Staying alert and conscious during learning.
    – Perceive information: Using all senses to become aware of information.
    – Memorise information: Storing information for retrieval later.
  1. Higher-order competencies: Ability to apply different thinking skills tolearning (flexibility) that requires more challenging competencies to process information than merely memorising, such as comparing information, classifying information, analysing information, thinking critically about information.
  2. Feelings, dispositions, attitudes: Dispositions such aswillingness, motivation, self-confidence, inquisitiveness, accuracy, systematic working ways, empathy, responsibility, accountability, ethical conduct, skills to work with others, positive attitudes towards learning; open-mindedness, fair-mindedness, excellent communication skills, better cooperative learning skills, etc. play an important role in effective learning, and in contributing to the societies we live in.

In short, essential competencies include two things, namely the development of skills (lower- and higher-order) that involve the “head” (mind) and dispositions/feelings/attitudes that involve the “heart” (emotions).

What is the difference between cognitive and metacognitive processes?

Cognitive actions/processes involve all thinking actions that we engage in, such as making decisions, solving problems, interpret information, or responding to questions.

It is always necessary to evaluate and assess ones thinking or answers (reflect about one’s thinking) to establish if it makes sense if it is logic, meaningful and significant. This evaluation and reflection process is called metacognition.

An important aspect of metacognition is that one needs to have the skills and strategies know what to do if one’s thinking does not make sense, solve problems incorrectly, misinterpret information or responding in an incomplete way to questions.

What is the difference between teaching for, of and about thinking?

  • Teaching FOR thinking involves the creation of school-wide and classroom conditions (and home) that support thinking development. We need to make time for the teaching of thinking.
  • Teaching OF thinking focuses on the explicit instruction and modelling of thinking skills/strategies and dispositions to learners, and not just expect learners to acquire them without purposeful teaching.  For example, Teaching learners strategies to become skilled at paying better attention (lower-order skill), making comparisons (higher-order skill), working accurately (disposition)
  • Teaching ABOUT thinking helps learners to become aware of their own and others’ thinking processes (meta-cognitive processes).  Teach learners strategies to assess their own thinking and to self-correct their thinking.

Why is it important for parents, educators and practitioners to develop better thinking and learning today?

We are educating/preparing learners to cope with the challenges of the 21stcentury. The 21st-century learner needs thinking skills and dispositions to deal with the following challenges: Learning and academic challenges, personal life challenges, societal and global challenges.

The 21stCentury Learner needs skill to/to be …

Learners also need skills and dispositions to deal with the challenges of the fourth Industrial Revolution

  • Grade 1 learners of 2019 will be in Grade 12 in 2030. We do not know what the world will look like then – totally unpredictable. We need to prepare learners to do anything, not something.
  • Understanding and coping with a digitally focused life – interaction with digital media.

Conceptual Age

1990s: Working with sophisticated tools and technologies

Today: Working with information overload


Looking at the aforementioned, one can make the following classification of what a learner will need to cope with learning and the challenges of the 21stcentury and the fourth Industrial Revolution.

Thinking skills

(cannot be taught by computers)

Digital skills Personal skills and dispositions

(cannot be taught by computers)

Job-specific skills
Critical thinking


Decision making

Digital literacy

Computer programming

Online learning







Industry knowledge

Workplace technology

Technical skills

Teachers, parents and practitioner still need to play an essential role in mediating and modelling good thinking skills and dispositions to learners, as computers and technology cannot teach thinking skills and dispositions.

What are the most important tips you can give to parents, educators and practitioners to develop better thinking and learning?

  1. Developing thinking processes intentionally – make time for it. Developing better thinking that would contribute to better learning has to become part and parcel of daily living, also at home.
  2. Taking hands with teachers and other practitioners to reinforce and strengthen the development of better thinking and learning.
  3. Becoming knowledgeable about different tools to develop thinking competencies (skills, dispositions).