How Do Children Learn Through Play?
Play is essential to children’s development, but experts are concerned kids are playing less than previous generations due to today’s busy lifestyles and reliance on technology.
Some of the benefits of play include an improved sense of well-being and enhanced memory, creativity and problem-solving skills. Without regular play time children are at a distinct disadvantage.
Why Play is Important
Play is the first step in helping prepare children for formal academic learning. Many educators believe kids who engage in quality play are more able to cope with the demands of school in later years.
Play prepares children for learning because it gives them an opportunity to resolve problems, come up with creative solutions and develop concentration. Through play kids learn to role play and consider different perspectives. Play gives them opportunities to explore cause and effect as well as numbers and shapes. They also make predictions and test their hypotheses.
In addition, play teaches children how to socialise with other children and resolve conflicts. It enhances language development and storytelling abilities. Another benefit of play is the outlet it provides for physical energy. Burning off excess energy reduces behaviour issues and aids sleep. It helps children concentrate and reduces stress levels.
Promoting Play-based Learning
In Australia, play-based learning has been used in preschools for many years, however it is not a major part of the primary curriculum. This is being challenged by research which has found that in the first years of school, direct instruction alone can cause anxiety and behaviour issues. As a result, many primary schools are starting to introduce play-based learning programs in the early years of education.
This model encompasses both free play where students take the lead, and intentional play where the teacher guides activities and asks questions to support higher order thinking. In practice, this might involve a teacher posing questions about basic mathematical concepts while observing children playing with blocks.
One of the great benefits of the play-based model is that kids feel like they have some agency in their learning. Adult involvement in play also helps stimulate children to explore further and gain mastery of critical skills such as problem solving and flexible thinking.
What Parents Can Do
- Resist overscheduling. While extracurricular activities are important, kids need plenty of free time to engage in play.
- Provide opportunities. It’s important to invite friends over for regular play dates, particularly if your child doesn’t have siblings around the same age.
- Get involved. Get actively involved by participating in games with your child. Kids love it when parents take part, and it’s a great bonding experience.
- Get outside. Play time in the great outdoors is vital for health and mental wellbeing. Encourage this by taking your child to the park where they can let their imagination run free.
- Provide props. Provide plenty of props to stimulate your child’s imagination. Buy some dress-up clothes from a charity store, or encourage your child to make something creative from everyday household items.
A solid foundation built on play-based learning sets kids up for a lifetime of success.