Teaching younger children through ‘guided’ play supports key aspects of their learning and development at least as well – and sometimes better – than the traditional direct instruction they usually receive at school, a new analysis finds. Guided play broadly refers to playful educational activities which, although gently steered by an adult using open-ended questions and prompts, give children the freedom to explore a learning goal in their own way. The new study gathered data about the impact of this approach on 3,800 children aged three to eight. It found that guided play can be just as effective as more traditional methods of classroom instruction in the development of key literacy, numeracy and social skills – as well as the acquisition of executive functions (a cluster of essential thinking skills). The findings also suggest that children may master some skills – notably in maths – more effectively through guided play than via other methods.