Play is fundamental to the healthy growth and development of children, so much so, play underpins the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) of learning. Through the art of play, children develop their emotions and creativity together with an array of competencies including language skills, social skills and academic skills. For most children, their play is instinctive, impulsive, unstructured and unsupported, however some children may need to be guided. For more details click here to read our blog on how you can promote learning through guided play.
Play takes place in lots of different environments and helps children to explore and discover their immediate world. It is here within these playful scenarios that they practise new ideas and skills, take risks, demonstrate imagination and solve problems on their own or with other children. Adults play a critical role by providing the space, time and resources that will inspire play and ignite children’s imaginations. Adults should observe play and participate when invited. It is essential that adults appreciate the value of play and as such provide a safe yet challenging environment that will support and extend their child’s learning and development.
As children play, they learn to solve problems, get along with others and develop the fine and gross motor skills needed to grow and learn. They are also beginning to get a sense of their own identity and how they are different from others, such as noticing boys and girls.
How Do Young Children Learn?
Children essentially learn through all their senses, namely touch, sight, hearing, smelling and tasting. By observing and imitating those around them they learn language and behaviour. Children also lean through play.
Learning through play
Play is one of the key ways in which children learn. The art of play helps to build children’s self-worth by giving them a sense of their own capabilities and to feel good about themselves. Because play is fun, children will often become very absorbed in what they are doing which in turn helps them to develop the ability to concentrate. Providing children with a range of resources will help them to learn in several ways:
- A Kids Whiteboard is a fantastic tool to aid creative play. Just give children a selection of dry wipe pens and let them draw and scribble till their hearts content. This encourages imagination, creativity and expression of feelings.
- Building blocks, jigsaws and shape sorters can help with recognizing different shapes.
- Dancing, running, climbing and playing ball games all help to foster muscle development, help fine-tune motor skills and develop body movement, flexibility, strength and co-ordination skills. Children also build their mental and emotional muscles as they create elaborate, imaginative worlds rich with a system of rules that govern the terms of play.
- Games will teach children to share, mix with others and take turns.
- Sand and water play is a fantastic introduction to science and maths, i.e. learning that water is fluid and that it can be measured in different size containers.
- Singing and playing simple musical instruments helps to develop listening, hearing and rhythm.
It is integral to remember that children develop in their own ways and in their own time, so please do not push your child too hard and try not to compare them with other children. You may also want to encourage reading to and with your child. Look at the pictures together as this will help younger children to make sense of the words. It is also good to talk to your child a lot, about everyday things while you are cooking or cleaning as this will give you a chance to teach them how things work and will allow them to ask you questions. Be prepared for a lot of ‘why’s?’
Play is extremely powerful for children, more so than parents realise. Play is fundamentally the key to learning. Educators and researchers across the globe have repetitively discovered that play can help enrich learning and develop key skills namely inquiry, experimentation, expression and teamwork.
In her TedX Talk , Professor Doris Fromberg, Director of Early Childhood Teacher Education at Hofstra University, explains why play is such an important part of the learning process for children.
“We need to consider that young children learn in quite different ways (than adults). They learn by comparing physical experiences, by interactions with other people and their own feelings. And they learn an enormous amount through their imagination… Play is what pulls together the logical and creative parts of the brain.”
To summarise, play provides opportunities for exploration, experimentation and manipulation that are essential for forming and building knowledge. Learning through play stimulates the development of social, emotional and intellectual abilities of a child. It is also through play that children develop their imagination and creativity.