September 29, 2016

How Playing Can Help Children Learn

Memories of our childhood are mostly centred on those that featured play times with our friends, siblings, and parents. Wherever the venue might be – the beach, playgrounds, school, or our house, what mattered the most was that we were able to have a truly fun time discovering new things, tinkering on toys or tools, while interacting and building bonds with others. Play is a major part of every child’s life and in fact, parenting experts and educators are even trying to draw more attention to its role in early childhood learning and development.

But times have changed and children now are being made to start and focus on academic achievement too early. We also let them experience technology by handing them small gadgets like smart phones and tablets installed with “educational” applications. Some busy parents let their children watch kid-friendly shows on TV too so that they can work and do some household chores whilst caring for them.

We do not discourage that these are strategies that could work but experts still advise parents, teachers, and child care workers to give children ample time to play. According to internationally acclaimed educator, Charles Pascel, “Play is serious business for the development of young learners. This is such an important understanding. A deliberate and effective play-based approach supports young children’s cognitive development.

When well designed, such an approach taps into children’s individual interests, draws out their emerging capacities, and responds to their sense of inquiry and exploration of the world around them. It generates highly motivated children enjoying an environment where the learning outcomes of a curriculum are more likely to be achieved.”

A Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, claims that play is a psychological phenomenon and CMEC expresses that this is a major trigger where children’s social, emotional, physical, language, creative, and cognitive skills develop. As you can see, many experts advocate the value of play for it is a powerful vehicle for children to learn new skills and to achieve several developmental milestones.

But what is play and how do we define play-based learning?

Play involves activities that children do to entertain themselves. They do this through the use of toys, other materials found in their environment or through the use of their imagination. Play can be by just themselves or with the company of other children or adults. It is enjoyable, highly rewarding for the child, spontaneous, and very recreational.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child treaty declared that play is age-appropriate and should be respected, encouraged, and promoted by all as it is an important right of children, regardless of race and social standing. Play can be further described by the following:

  • It doesn’t need to have a goal. It is spontaneous and it doesn’t have a specific structure. Play flows where the child wants to take it.
  • Play sometimes brings out emotions like frustrations, anger, and fears in a child but these are minor challenges that he/she will overcome in time. Enjoyment will still be the outstanding emotion that will be experienced by a child during play.
  • Play should be voluntary on the part of the child, his playmates, and other players.

Play takes on a more important role when associated with early childhood learning and development. It is called “play-based learning”, which suggests that during play, children are more motivated and psychologically conditioned therefore developing a deep interest towards learning. During play, children are at their most receptive, most imaginative, and most active state thus making learning a fun experience instead of it being a task.

What are the benefits of play?

Early Childhood Australia explains the benefits below.

1. Emotional and Social Development

Play provides lots of opportunities for children to express themselves. During play, children experience a host of emotions – negative and positive; and all of these make them aware of the ways by which they can either cope, embrace, or disregard such emotions. This exercise will eventually teach them how to properly manage their own feelings and behaviour and in turn manifest a positive feeling of being independent.

As mentioned earlier, play helps build strong bonds such as friendship and love between the child and his or her friend, sibling, or parent. Social skills are being learned as the child interacts with others under different circumstances. Let’s say trying to borrow a toy, asking if he or she can lead the game, sharing his or her own drawing materials, waiting for his or her turn, saying sorry, saying no, following others’ lead, and even going through a fight with a playmate.

2. Physical Development

Since most children’s play is heavily active, parents, teachers, and child care workers automatically associate play to physical development. This is right in doing so because play contributes to the development of fine motor skills (small movements like picking up his toys) and gross motor skills (large movements like running around the room) of a child. Through play, a child also becomes more aware of their own body and how they can use various body parts to do things. Active play is also encouraged regularly to help instil the value of exercise, sports, and physical health in children.

3. Creative and Cognitive Development

Children think, imagine, create, analyse, solve problems, and perform other intellectual processes during play. It is a highly favourable experience as it develops their cognitive or mental skills. Cognitive skills cover a whole range of abilities that a child will need later in life like language, memory, writing, reading, curiosity, experimentation, and creativity.

A child’s creative potential is an important skill that can be used in daily life. It does not only mean being artistic. It also means being able to perceive the world differently, to find connections amongst the things around you, to find hidden or unexposed details, then create solutions using these findings.

4. Moral Development

Play exposes a child to different ways on how to engage and interact with others. During these interactions they discover which behaviours are acceptable and unacceptable – for example, “should I grab his toy or ask permission first?” This aspect of play-based learning needs the active participation of adults so that they can guide their child by letting them know which actions are good and are highly encouraged and at the same time, which actions should be avoided.

All of these benefits when put together contribute to good well-being which makes the child healthier and happier. It is then a must for parents, teachers, and child care workers to foster an environment that promotes play.

How can adults promote play?

There are a lot of ways for parents, teachers, and child care workers to encourage, promote, and support play and they can be summarised by the following from The University of UTAH:

Watch and monitor how your child plays.

Notice which toys, play venue, games or activities does he enjoy the most. Find out if he or she favours playing with a particular playmate. Observe and be aware of these things as they will help you create a more pleasurable play experience for your child next time.

Interact and take part.

Children get the sense of reward and satisfaction when adults join in during play-time. This makes them feel that adults who are the authority figures in their lives, approve and enjoy the same activity that they like doing. For parents, know that your child is at their happiest when you participate during play. Never shy away from your child’s invitations to join. Your involvement will absolutely make the activity more memorable and conducive to learning.

Be creative.

Remember, children are at their most receptive, most imaginative, and most active state during play. Take advantage of this opportunity to present them with other ways on how to use and manipulate toys or other ways on how to perform a game. Explore things with them, read books to them, draw together, and share stories too.


Did you enjoy reading this blog? Share it with your friends by using the buttons below. Providing experiences to support children’s play to foster children’s learning and development is just one topic covered in our child care course, if you are interested in learning more contact us more information on 1300 236 364 or email

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