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Learning and playing - two peas in a pod!

Children learn to play from a young age and we often spend our time finding new toys or creations for them. The skills that children learn when they play that lay the foundations for future learning in school and beyond.

Posted on Thursday 16th April 2020

Play is also important to support emotional health and wellbeing by providing the opportunity to relax and let off steam. But simply, children need time to play and be shown how to play with lots of different things (not just electronic devices).

Children can create imaginary worlds, become inventors, travel to unknown places and try out unfamiliar things. Giving them opportunities to play and letting them explore provides hours of engaged learning. I never knew there were so many games you could play with a bucket of water and paintbrush until I watched my nephew! Children become so absorbed in what they are doing when they play, that what they learn is remembered.

In this blog, we have taken a selection play scenarios and shared a few examples of learning that occur naturally. This does not by any means capture all of the play or learning opportunities, but provides a simple snapshot of how play and learning are intertwined.

When children play with board games and puzzles …

  • Turn taking, attention and ‘losing well’ – Games and puzzles can take some time (especially Monopoly) so offer lots of opportunities to develop these essential skills.
  • Maths knowledge and reasoning – For some games, children will need to use their knowledge of numbers, particularly if they want to win! (They’re learning and they don’t know it – perfect!)
  • Memory – Both games and puzzles require children to use their memory, which in turn improves it and supports their ability to remember what they learn.
  • Communication, language, and social skills – When children play games, they talk, which allows them to extend and explore language.
  • Logical thinking – If children want to win the game or finish a puzzle as quickly as possible, they have to plan their approach using the best tactics!
  • Visual processing skills – Children have to observe closely and pay attention to small details of colour, pattern and shape in order to decide where the pieces go.

When children play dressing up and role play …

  • Imagination – Developing children’s imagination and creativity helps support with tasks such as writing later on in their education. Who knew there were so many things a cardboard box could turn into!
  • Speaking and listening – Children have to talk and listen while they play, either talking to themselves or talking to others who are playing with them.
  • Social and emotional – Big decisions need to be made in games like this, such as who is going to be the shopkeeper first? Children can practise negotiation skills and also how to compromise!
  • Understanding the world – Children can become anything they want in the world of pretend. They can try out different jobs, visit new places and make sense of the world by acting out different scenarios. A lot of scenarios let children try out and explore different situations from different viewpoints.

When children play with construction and small world toys …

  • Imagination and creativity – Children can plan adventures for their toys with some very creative plot twists! They can build homes, vehicles and exciting new lands. Anything is possible. Who knew that a chicken could travel to Mars on a wooden brick rocket?
  • Understanding the world – Children learn a lot about the world we live in through the different toys they play with including farms, dinosaurs, robots, sea creatures, etc. I remember many conversations about what noise a giraffe really makes?
  • Communication and language – Exciting descriptions and retelling of adventures offer the perfect opportunity to practise and extend vocabulary. How many different ways can you explain how the cow zoomed or whizzed to the bottom of the ocean in a submarine?
  • Motor skills and coordination– Building, stacking, and balancing all help to develop hand eye coordination and fine motor skills.
  • Mathematical skills – Construction toys enable children to explore shape, space and size. Can you balance the sphere on top of the cube? Will that huge brick balance on top of the tiny brick? How many bricks can you stack before it topples over?

When children play games such as throwing, catching or with sand and water …

  • Physical development including flexibility and coordination – Playing games, lifting and carrying water and digging in sand all support children’s whole body development including their core strength.
  • Turn taking, and social skills – Children develop skills for team sports such as turn taking and collaboration. These activities encourage talk, so by joining in with them, children can be learning lots of new language too!
  • Scientific, problem solving and mathematical skills – Children might choose to play and explore with things such as pouring and transporting water, creating water pathways, measuring sand, measuring distance and using different sized containers.

Play and learning go hand-in hand; when children are playing, they are learning. So, take a step back and let them play, marvelling at their creativity, or … embrace your inner child, get dressed up, build a tower, play games and enter the wonderful world of play.