Experts agree that play is one of the most important ways that children learn and prepare for life, as well as being a crucial activity for igniting and stimulating a love of learning.
Play is vital for the development of the brain and helps to build children’s communication skills, to understand their place in the world and to explore their feelings. Furthermore, play also builds self-worth and resilience. In fact, play is such a crucial element of a child’s life that it’s been enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 31 states that every child should have...the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
Even though children generally don’t distinguish between learning and playing, there are different types of play, which offer a variety of learning opportunities. From physically active play like running and climbing, quiet play like reading or looking at books and co-operative play involving games with others to constructive play using fine motor skills like doing puzzles to dramatic and fantasy play like painting, dress-ups and making music - there’s no doubting the fact that children learn different things from different types of play.
Essentially, play is one of the most important ways that children learn about life and about themselves. It helps them develop vital skills which set them up for life, and parents, caregivers and educators can influence the way that children learn and interact with others by understanding both the mechanics of play as well as how children learn through play.
For example, the Reggio Emilia Approach to early childhood education fosters the belief that the child, parent, community and natural environment are all essential to the learning process. This approach originated in Italy and places a strong emphasis on the importance of family and community, channelling the idea that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’.
This pedagogical approach has been widely adopted around the world including the US, the UK and Australia. Schools who incorporate the values and principles of Reggio Emilia focus on the individual strengths and needs of the child. Children are encouraged to learn through listening, touching and observation activities and are always encouraged to explore and discover, have opinions, negotiate and provide suggestions in order to reach their full potential.
So how and what do children learn through play?
There are many, many skills that children learn through the different types of play - all of which are vitally important for sound cognitive, physical, social and emotional development.
Apart from the obvious things like developing the capacity to concentrate and problem-solve as well as the development of fine and gross motor skills, cognitive concepts, language and memory skills, hypothesising, critical reflection and collaboration, children also learn a huge amount of social and emotional skills through play.
For example, when children are playing games where rules are involved (regardless of whether the rules are pre-set or are organically developed as the game goes along), they learn how to play by the rules, they learn how to handle situations (and themselves) when they don’t agree with the rules and they learn how to take turns. The development of social skills is crucial - and through play, children can learn how to interact with others, co-operate, negotiate, share and manage their emotions, use their imaginations and make sense of the world.
Whether it’s drawing and sculpting, dancing or climbing, painting or acting out a make-believe situation, building castles in a sandpit or filling containers with water, playing alone or with others, play activities provide an essential platform for children to learn, discover, explore, questions and communicate.
In fact, communication is a cornerstone of Reggio Emilia-based childcare centres where the curriculum is co-constructed with the children, their families and the teachers. Children are view as communicators, born with huge potential and a wide range of abilities, who search out knowledge through their own investigation. This free, dynamic, positive, engaging and open-sourced style of learning cultivates young minds and stimulates a love of learning - and it can be adapted to suit different contexts.
For example, Nido Early School adheres to world-class Reggio Emilia values but has adapted the approach to suit the educational, cultural and environmental context of Australia. Every centre at Nido Early School also follows the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) which has a specific emphasis on play-based learning and which recognises the importance of communication and language (including early literacy and numeracy) and social and emotional development.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the importance of learning through play for children or want to explore quality early education options , visit nidoearlyschool.com.au to find a centre near you.