We hear regularly that play is important for young children. But why is play so critical in early childhood learning and development? And why should we, as parents, encourage our children to explore their world and develop their skills through meaningful play?
You’ve probably noticed your child playing and learning, from a very young age. At six months old your baby learned about touch, shape and texture through playing with her crinkly ball. At two years old your toddler discovered “imaginary play”, pretending to drink a cup of tea from his plastic tea set. At four, your preschooler’s style of play is more complex and realistic, and he has lots of ideas for socio-dramatic play games.
Children were born to play. They are masters of play. They are equipped with the ability to play, and we are here to facilitate their play opportunities and encourage their ideas.
Play and exploration is inherently meaningful for children, and its quality cannot be measured. Don’t become hung up on ensuring that your child/rens’ experiences are meaningful; just continue to provide the opportunities for play to occur and engage with your child during their play.
Through play, children:
Use and develop oral language skills;
Develop thinking and problem-solving strategies;
Develop creativity and explore their imagination; and
Learn through engaging all their senses
“Learning experiences must allow children to use as many of their senses as possible, since it is through the sensory pathways that the brain interprets and creates its knowledge structures.”
By engaging in play experiences with your child, you validate their ideas, give practical support, offer new vocabulary and model appropriate socio emotional behaviours. Get involved in their games! If they’re interested in Emergency Services vehicles, like my two year old, suggest setting up a Fire House game. Or if they’re intrigued by rainbows, like my four year old is, go crazy with rainbow-making activities, including crafts or a science experiment! Find your inner child and embrace the enjoyment gained through play with your own little ones!
Socio-dramatic play helps children make sense of the world and try out different roles within the community; a firefighter, a teacher, a doctor, a scientist, for example.
In play a child is always above his actual age, above his daily behaviour; in play it is although he were a head taller than himself.”
For more information on theoretical perspectives of play, check out this cool summary of the theories of Hymes, Piaget, Erikson and Vygotsky.
More on the theorists and the value of play later- but for now, grab your gorgeous preschooler or toddler, and start to play. A world of enjoyment, excitement, wonder (and inevitably, mess) awaits.